Nobelist in chemistry, Dr. Ahmed Zewail of the California Institute of Technology, is an Egyptian-American who has sometimes been mentioned as a candidate for president of Egypt. He has served as a science envoy to the Arab world of President Obama.
In an interview on Aljazeera Arabic, Zewail called for fundamental change in Egypt, not just cosmetic alterations. He gave as the causes for the current uprising:
1. Power games among the elite, competition over the succession to President Hosni Mubarak, lack of transparency and phony elections.
2. The economic situation: the masses of the poor have been left behind, the situation of the middle class has actually gone backward, while a small elite at the top benefits from what economic progress there is– because of a marriage of power and capital.
3. Corruption and constant demands for bribes by officials.
4. Education: The deterioration of the education system, which is central to every Egyptian household’s hopes of progress, to a state that does not in any way reflect Egypt’s standing in the world.
(Zewail is right about that. You have poorly paid professors with 2000 students in the class, and what learning gets done is often rote, then there are not enough jobs for the graduates; the state spends its money on something else, and the best Egyptian minds have been attracted by the much better salaries and working conditions in the Oil Gulf or the West.)
Being a chemist, Zewail seems to like sets of four. So he also put forward four resolutions of the crisis:
1. The Constitution: A constitutional assembly of wise men should be assembled to draft a new constitution, based on liberty, human rights, and the orderly transfer of power
2. the independence of the courts must be guaranteed
3. Free and fair elections must be conducted for the upper and lower houses of parliament and for the presidency, overseen by the independent judiciary.
4. Government: A new transitional government of national unity must be appointed. The military must intervene to keep order and to protect the nation in this transitional period.
Zewail’s suggestions for a transition to an Egypt with a rule of law and regular, transparent elections show where the educated middle class would like things to go. But he needs to specify the precise mechanisms whereby you get the constitutional assembly and the government of national unity. In Tunisia, it was the former speaker of the house become president who took the lead in fostering a transition, and everyone on the cabinet resigned from the former ruling party. In Egypt, it would now be Omar Sulaiman, of military intelligence, who became president were Mubarak to step down, and he seems a poor candidate for playing the role of midwife to Zewail’s new institutions. And, the existing parliament is dominated by the National Democratic Party of Mubarak, so is likewise unlikely to take these steps.
Moreover, it is not clear that these procedural, legal changes would actually have the slightest impact on poverty or class stratification. In fact, the US, among the world’s most vibrant democracies, has been spiralling down into epic inequality, with masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken while the tiny class of super-rich at the top has seen its wealth quadruple.