Egypt: As of this writing (1/31/11) it is unclear what the outcome of the massive demonstrations in Egypt will be.  Secretary Clinton has taken the right position focusing attention on the already scheduled September Presidential elections, insisting that they be free and fair and that an interim Egyptian government be “representative”. Clinton took the same position on Tunisia (see my earlier post).

An encouraging sign on the course of events is that opposition groups met on Sunday and chose Nobel Prize winner and former head of the IAEA, Mohammed El-Baradei, who had joined the demonstrations, to be their leader. US commentators routinely downplay El Baradei as lacking a political base. He just seems to have just got one, a good sign, among others, that the opposition has a serious eye on international reactions and Egypt’s international position (does the macho US media want to find another “strong man” like Mubarak to run Egypt?). Another good sign is that – so far – the army is not putting down the demonstrations or enforcing the curfews. If the forces at play can coalesce behind an interim government leading to free and fair elections in the fall (or sooner), bringing this repressive regime to account can work for the good in the region. It is not a given, for example, that the government that emerges will cancel Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. International monitoring of the elections will be a key factor. If invited, internationals can help with the organization of free and fair elections, such as advising on setting up an independent election commission.

In terms of falling dominoes among Egypt’s neighbors, I was just in Jordan as an official monitor of their November parliamentary elections. Jordanian officials made serious efforts to follow international standards, even if elections took place under a monarchy with governing powers and a unpopular unelected Prime Minister. Immediately after unrest broke out in Tunisia, Jordanians took to the streets to protest their unelected government. My odds are on King Abdullah II managing the protest and delivering on (more) reform. Leaders in Yemen and Algeria should perhaps be more anxious.

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