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Why Mubarak Will Survive The Protests. And What Happens If He Doesn’t

Analysis: To help hold on to power, the Egyptian leader can count on the army and fear of the vacuum his departure would bring.

In October, Hosni Mubarak is slated to mark 30 years as Egypt's leader. As the country's omnipotent president, he didn't even appoint a vice-president, as his predecessors had done. With thousands of Egyptians taking to the streets against the regime, Le Figaro spoke with Jean-Noel Ferrie, an Egyptian affairs specialist about how Mubarak has managed to become one of the longest standing leaders in the world – and what his forced departure would bring.

Opposition to Hosni Mubarak has always existed, explains Jean-Noel Ferrie of France's national scientific research center (CNRS). And though the criticism and public demonstrations have reached a new level, Ferrie cautions against quick comparisons to what happened in Tunisia. "It would be wrong to compare his unpopularity with Ben Ali's."

Mubarak came to power after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. With his military background, and stature as a hero during the 1973 war, he won the army's support, which has been a key element in the regime's survival, right up to the present moment. "It is unlikely that protesters can oust him without facing the military first," says Ferrie. There is another reason Mubarak can count on the army's support: the military is very rich and controls many companies, and doesn't want to jeopardize these advantages.

Demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood

The political scene is also at a standstill. The November 2010 parliamentary elections showed that the rulling National Democratic Party (NDP), led by Mubarak, wasn't ready to give more space to the opposition. In 2005, relatively freer elections than the past saw the Muslim Brotherhood gain ground, obtaining 88 seats. This time around, the ruling party made sure that didn't happen. There was so much fraud in the first round that most opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, decided to back out. As a result, the NDP now has a comfortable majority – 494 seats out of 508 – a situation that makes even some ruling party members uncomfortable.

The Muslim Brotherhood is indeed Mubarak's historic archrival. Ferrie says the group scares the regime because "they give the impression that they form an important bloc and aren't ready to compromise." The electoral success in 2005 left Mubarak and company "stunned," Ferrie says. "They could not accept how well the Islamists did."

The Brotherhood became popular through a network of charities, which came in where the State was absent. Its members are regularly arrested. "The government keeps up the pressure so they don't go too far," says Ferrie. Between his hold over NDP and repression of the Brotherhood, Mubarak has killed all forms of credible political alternatives. "Like all authoritarian regimes, he went for a scorched earth policy," says Ferrie. "If Mubarak falls, he won't necessarily be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, but it will be chaos."

The challenge of succession

The lack of a credible opposition is what guarantees Mubarak the support of many international powers. He focuses his rhetoric on the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood to make the West believe that they are the only other alternative. "Nobody wants that. Neither Europeans, who don't want religious extremists in power, nor Americans who want to maintain peace between Egypt and Israel."

The regime has hardened as it gets closer to the question of the 83-year-old leader's succession. Transitions are always tricky for authoritarian regimes. Mubarak will probably seek a sixth term in September, but many experts believe he won't finish it. Instead he'll try to give his seat to his son Gamal, who embodies a more reformist and liberal branch of the NDP. But he could suffer from not being an army man. "If Egyptians refuse Gamal, nothing guarantees that the army will turn against the street in order to support him."

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