Zewail’s 4 point Plan for Egypt

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.

Posted in Egypt | 24 Responses | Print |

24 Responses

    • That would mean risking immediate loss of popular Egyptian support to himself. Egyptians are quite religious.

  1. The question for Egypt is the same as for every country struggling for survival in the world today.

    What can you do for China?

  2. It’s funny to me that people can post sentences like this, “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,” without pausing to think that maybe that doesn’t make us an exceptionally vibrant democracy at all.

    • Indeed. There are 2 parties in the US, neither of which represent the average person. Corporations are free to pump as much money into political campaigns as they want. Free speech zones. Even Obama claims the right to assassinate US citizens without trial. Massive media consolidation. The military industrial complex. The corporate prison complex. The worlds highest incarceration rate. The war on drugs. The war on terror. Greatest disparity in wealth in the western world. In comparison to China or Saudi Arabia, the US may be a vibrant democracy (hardly an achievement). Compared to the western world, I think it’s fair to say the US is probably the least vibrant democracy.

  3. Is there a difference between a democratic government and an authoritarian one?
    Look at the UK, France etc. The people are deliberately ill informed, misinformation and half truths are fed to the them by supposed people of integrity including their elected representatives. The media conglomerates are owned /controlled by the elite, and now new laws are being discussed in relation to the Internet.
    The politicians have little or no training in the affairs of state. Many, once elected are more interested in protecting their own interests than does of the state.
    The second house is full of Lords and Ladies who on their own admission (declared interests) are involved with multinational corporations.
    Corruption is rife where ever one looks.
    4 billion euros – 5% of the budget – disappears from the EU budget every year which is why Parliament has not signed off on the accounts.
    India China and Africa have taken millions out of poverty but not The International Development Fund WHY? – corporate corruption.
    The vast amounts of money poured into Afghanistan to build up the infra structure is diverted through various companies, each taking a cut before it ever reaches its destination.
    The media fails to show us the mansions built in and around Kabul, paid for by the taxpayers in America, Britain etc.none of whom receive a share of BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total’s profits.
    Debt has been used to enslave the people and enrich the few whether it is under the rule of an authoritarian government or a so called democratic one.
    In 1913 when the Federal Reserve Act was passed, Congressman Lindberg said “ This Act establishes the most gigantic trust on earth ….When the President signs this Act, the invisible government by the money power, proven to exist by the Money Trust Investigation, will be legalized…”

    • Cant help but agree. Manipulating the means of exchange gives an elite the power to manipulate but not create wealth. Unfortunately a lot of socialists confuse the issue by not differentiating between this and a fair and productive free market, subjected to the same policing as the rest of us – free of cronyism, fraud and corporatist fascism. Looks like Egypt has the same problems that we have – but those that benefit lack the sophistication to bamboozle the populace permanently.
      No coincidence that the “quantitive easing” has lead to riots elsewhere – a fiat reserve currency has exported the inflation whilst war profiteers and other snouts in the trough feast. By accepting economic quackery – whilst hoping for social programmes – we have ended up with socialism for the bankers – but just when they make a loss. The profits are private. Egyptians are a capable people and economic freedom is what they require.

      Never forget for one minute how did all this started in Tunisia.

  4. Seems to me that it will take massive (enlightened) dictatorial forces to rearrange the distribution of wealth and improve Egypt’s institutions. Obviously the ruling and and wealthy classes do not have any inclination to do so and will fight any changes that reduce their status (and they bring a lot of weaponry to the fight).

    As Prof Cole points out, fair elections do not necessarily lead to wise and competent legislatures and effective administrations. A purple finger is often just a purple finger. As obscene as it sounds, maybe only Mubarak has the power and control to make the changes the people want. Might need the enlightened to point a gun at his head to get him to go along, but at least he knows what strings to pull and what heads to bash.

    Ah, that’s probably as Alice in Wonderland as voting in geniuses at country building.

  5. Dear Dr. Zewail and Dr. Cole,
    The “constitutional assembly of wise men” named as a resolution is doomed already, along with so much else, because again, as usual, the men think they have all the wisdom, all the experience, all the perspectives. It doesn’t matter that this is culturally congruent for Egypt, or for anywhere. It isn’t congruent with the ancient, unchangeable laws of nature, that it takes male and female to bring life and also to keep life healthy and whole. Yet this is never mentioned when looking for solutions about what the heck we should do.

  6. It’s NOT going to happen unless Mubarak leaves and more pressure is brought to bear on army and the current government. By the way, there is nothing wrong with the current Constitution except that Mubarak interfered with it so as to prevent new political parties from participating and any judicial oversight of elections. These changes could be removed.

    Egyptians, to the poster above, by the way are not all illiterate and need not be considered stupid voters even if they are. I have had more enlightening political conversations with individuals in Egypt who are “of the masses” that any time, ever in the U.S.

    While education needs work and money – this issue should not be misread

  7. What would Prof Zewail think of a Constituent Assembly that would function both as a national legislature and as a constitutional convention?

  8. Seems like the common denominator in the general downward spiral is the the concentration of power into the hands of a wealthy elite. Such a situation describes both Egypt and the U.S. The U.S. may give the impression of a “vibrant democracy” but clearly it’s money that buys U.S. elections. The current sorry state of the U.S. economy and absence of any real change (much less prosecution of mis-deeds)is a result of the total capture of both parties by finance and banking interests(among others). So “fair” elections are meaningless if the choices available result in the same outcome. The only way there will be any real change is if power is wrested from the hands of the elite – either in Egypt or the U.S. An ugly prospect – particularly in a country like the U.S. where the citizenry is armed to the teeth and misinformed on both the nature and origin of the swindle perpetrated on them.

  9. The US elite has found ways to take the risk out of demooracy – and have been on quite a roll (about 30 years) dismantling the welfare state. However, in countries like Egypt and Haiti – even formal democracy is disallowed – because the poor are the majority. Minimalist demands are rejected unless – as we see in the streets of Cairo – people become so enraged that they lose fear of state violence.

    The problem with “wise men” is that they are often completely unwise. Conventional wisdom is often conventinoal idiocy (or fanaticism which amounts to the same thing). The economic aspirations of the Egyptian people depend on being able to resist the neoliberal fanaticism that the US does everything it can to impose. As Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, it is major cause of the fiasco in Iraq.

    Cuba and China – without formal deomcracy – have been able to outperform the US is numerous ways. Venezuela – where neoliberalism is rejected and democracy greatly deepened – is demonized by the US media (and the international press in other capitalist contries) in the most outrageous manner.

    Many battles lie ahead for Egytians even after (hopefully) ridding themselves of Mubarak and his henchmen.

  10. Add to the other four:

    #5: No more Nobel laureates living abroad are to give political lectures to the Egyptian people, by whose efforts alone will freedom be won in their country. The Egyptian people are now the professors, and all who value freedom are their pupils.

  11. Here’s my question: how will the United States/Israel react considering Cairo’s long-standing deal with Washington over the Palestinian issue? If a more representative government does emerge from this tumult, and that appears to be the general direction we’re heading here, then it seems likely that the new Egyptian politics would take a different approach toward, say, the Gaza siege. Surely Israel and the Zionist wing in American politics are concerned about that, which is why I would assume that they will do whatever they can to keep Mubarak in power. Am I right in my concerns? And if not, what am I missing?

  12. Dear Professor Cole

    Prime Minister Nazif and his colleagues from University of Cairo who held minsterial positions will be a loss. I have met some of them and formed a favourable view of them.

    As technocrats their knowledge and competence was creating some quite interesting proejcts , and integrating Egypt with Europe particularly in the telecommunications system.

    How an air force offcier will cope with some of the appalling structural and infrastructure problems that will require very subtantial investment over a long term will be interesting to see.

    The Urban Planning problems in Cairo alone are staggering. As you know, the statue of Rameses was moved from Rameses square , outside the railway station, to a location outside the city becasue the air pollution was eating away the stsue.

    A walk around the district near Ibn Tullun Mosque gives you a picture of what life is like for the Urban poor.

    Who is publishing work on these subjects? Robin Nibelett from Chatham House in his interview from Davos says nothing can change for at least five years.

    link to chathamhouse.org.uk

    Once the euphoria dies down, what happens next?

  13. There is no such thing as fair elections as Stalin said “its not who votes that counts but who counts the votes”
    The people of Egypt ought to sideline Mubarak and immediately pick from their midst a temporary leader in each province and direct them to corm a government

  14. Proessor Cole

    How can you call the US “one of the world’s most vibrant democracies”, when elections incrasingly are bought and paid for by corporations and the ultra richs? Pluutocracy is a much more accurate description of the US today IMHO.

  15. a constituent assembly of “wise men” – who may they be? who decides on their wisdom? are women included or is the word ‘men’ used as a generic term?

    if the the judiciary is envisaged as being independent, why should it have a role in supervising elections? in cases od legally disputed results, that compromises the status of the judiciary – whatever is wrong with an independent electoral commission as is the case in most democracies, including the biggest, most plural and heterogenous one, outside the USA?

    perhaps chemists don’t make the the best political thinkers

    el baradei seems to think he has a right to be a leading player in the new era that emerges after mubarak – why? when he hasn’t even been living in egypt? or is he a self appointed wise man? don’t get me wrong, i have an enormous respect for the man in staring down the US re iran’s nuclear program but does that constitute ‘wisdom’ in crafting a new constitution?

    zewail does not explain how he sees the role of the president of the state vi a vis its parliamentarians in the two chambers – white house or white hall system?

    so many questions … but oh what fun ’twas to see obama/biden/clinton scrambling to cover up their dooh dahs

    heartfelt good wishes to the egyptians regardless of the troubled road ahead – a change in status quo was necessary – and hats off to the courage of ordinary unarmed civic citizenry


    Mubarak and not Obama, but rather his masters, in the shape of Rockefeller, Rothschild etc. ,who control the economy and who are instrumental in the development of an economic and military world governance is behind the present unrest. Egypt, Tunisia etc. are planned disruptions to rationalize power in accordance with their perceived new world footprint.
    Examine the available information from The World Economic Forum, The Federal Reserve, the IMF, the World Bank, the Bank of Settlements, and the statements by presidents of Rothschild and Rockefeller to their members from 1998 to the present day.
    Mubarak is being used to INSTALL A MILITARY RUN GOVERNMENT IN EGYPT – there can be no doubt about it

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