appears to be greater calm on the streets in Egypt over the weekend, the State
Department sent out a new Travel Warning on Sunday, Feb. 6, that instructs all
American citizens to leave Egypt now.
stronger alert replaces a previous Travel Warning from Feb. 1 that called for the
departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their families. The
State Department had been chartering planes to help evacuate American citizens
from Cairo, but those flights have now stopped. Nevertheless, the new Travel
Warning calls for all citizens to leave Egypt, noting the potential for more
violence in the offing.
"U.S. citizens should consider
leaving Egypt as soon as they can safely do so, due to ongoing political and
social unrest," the Travel Warning stated. "Large-scale demonstrations with the
potential for violence continue in several areas of the country, and there are
periodic overland travel disruptions."
airport in Cairo is open and has availability on outgoing flights, the State
Department said, adding that travelers can also leave Egypt from airports in Luxor, Alexandria, and Aswan.
"Do not wait for a reply from the
embassy or the Department of State before traveling to the nearest airport;
further delay is not advised," the warning stated.
The State Department is also calling
on U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations and to not go near Tahrir Square,
for fear that foreigners could again become targets of violence.
As the Obama administration works to encourage the
Egyptian government and opposition groups to sit down together and chart a path
forward, they are grappling with problem of what to do about a legal system in
Egypt that is inherently unfair but that remains the law of the land.
The Obama administration's message is that the path
forward in Egypt must be negotiated between all of the stakeholders in Egypt rather
than imposed from abroad. However, the administration also has concrete ideals
and standards its wants to see included in that process and officials are
involved in discussing those details with the Egyptian government.
"The future of Egypt will be
determined by its people... That transition must initiate a process that respects
the universal rights of the Egyptian people and that leads to free and fair
elections. And the details of this transition will be worked out by Egyptians,"
President Barack Obama said Friday.
"What we can do, though, is affirm the core principles that are going to be
involved in that transition."
Behind the scenes, administration
officials are in fact getting into the details of the process. "[O]fficials from
both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Mr. [Omar] Suleiman, backed by Lt. Gen. Sami
Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister,
would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform," the New York Timesreported.
details of that constitutional reform are crucial because they will determine the
transition of power and whether or not the coming presidential elections are
free and fair. Also, the process of constitutional reform will be the first
test of whether the regime led by President Hosni Mubarak is actually allowing opposition groups to participate
in a substantive manner.
Obama administration, which has placed itself somewhere between the positions
of the Egyptian government and the protesters by calling for a transition of
government now but not calling for Mubarak's immediate departure, is well aware
of these realities, according to experts close to top officials.
White House recognizes that there's a legal nightmare looming and that the
establishment in Egypt is putting its bet on the fact that its fortunes rise
the longer those knots remain tied," said the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons.
He said that the White House would like to see the
immediate establishment of a governing council -- made up of a cross section of
groups representing various Egyptian political entities -- that would take
temporary stewardship of the government and be caretakers as the path forward
"You either do government and legal reform in one
massive fell swoop, which none of the parties will agree to, or you basically
say that the current system is so broken, you must give super powers to an
anointed group of rivals and co-task them with the responsibility of getting
from here to there," Clemons said.
But it will be a Herculean task untangling the
Egyptian constitution and legal framework, seeing as so much is weighted toward
the regime. For example, Article 5 would need to be amended to allow
religiously based political parties to participate. Article 76 must be amended
if independent candidates are to be allowed. Law No. 40 for 1977 needs to be changed to ensure that the committee that
vets political parties is independent and not filled with government ministers.
Law No. 174 for 2005 would have to be
amended to allow monitors at election stations.
Voter registration in Egypt is also plagued with
problems. The emergency law in place since 1981 significantly constrains
political activity that could impact any future elections. Laws and regulations
on campaign finance have to be enforced. And the list goes on and on.
Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan said that basing the next round of
elections on exiting Egyptian law is a recipe for disaster. "You wouldn't
expect to have elections in Russia after communism based on Soviet laws, would
you?" he said in an interview with The Cable.
The Egyptian government can't be left to its own
devices to decide what those changes might be, Kagan said.
"This is a transition, there's going to have to be
some agreement on the rules of the road. Maybe some of it can be based on
Egyptian law," he said. "There's going to have to be agreement from the
government, the military and the opposition on how to move forward."
much of a role the U.S. can play in that process is not yet determined, but in
order to support democratic values as well as to try and promote an outcome
that protects U.S. interests of regional stability, the Obama administration
has to at least try, said Robert Satloff,
executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"What's most important is for us to have a set of
principles for an Egyptian government to support," Satloff said. "The U.S. has
a possibility to help Egypt build a new system that is democratic and stable.
Those things are not mutually exclusive and the U.S. should help them build