Assessing Egypt's Future

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A youth waves Egyptian flags from a lamp post in Tahrir Square on February 1, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Aladdin Elaasar, nominated as a candidate for the presidential elections in Egypt in 2005, and the author of The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age, discusses his critique of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and what he thinks about the future of that country.

Aladdin Elaasar, who dared to challenge Hosni Mubarak in an unbalanced election in 2005, doesn't really care who takes the reigns after Mubarak, as long as there are free elections, uncensored media, and the candidate is not named Mubarak. He said we should listen to the 60 percent of the Egyptian population that is under 25.

We should listen to the young people. They have basic demands: they want freedom. This is the internet generation, people who were born under Mubarak, who have a large number of unemployed, they belong to the—at least—40 percent of Egyptians who live under the poverty line. They need jobs, they need houses, they need to marry and start families. They do not care much about politics—the right or the left—and that's a good sign!

Elaasar said that this is a leaderless revolution, and that is also a good sign. He dismissed fears that the revolution would have an outcome similar to that of Iran in 1979, saying that the Egyptian population wouldn't support a theocracy.

The people out there on the street, they are not political. They are not necessarily religious, they are not leaning to the right or the left. We're seeing people, mainly young, but also old and middle aged people. We're seeing men and women and children, we're not seeing any religious slogans, we're not seeing clerics.

Mubarak shrewdly exaggerated the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, so that he could justify his dictatorship and repression, said Elaasar. "It's been a myth that has been in his favor because he played on our fears and in this case he's gotten away with everything he wanted to do."

What about military rule? Elaasar doubts that's what the Egyptian people want either.

I hope that the army will stay on the side and protect the people and not take sides in politics. Egypt has been living under the military institution since 1952. Many military generals have played a lot of roles in governments and they had cabinet positions. So I think the people now, they want a new start. They do not want to replace a military dictator with another military dictator.

Elaasar wants to see new faces in government. The elections have been such shams since Mubarak took power that only a small minority of the population turns out to vote. Without a doubt, he said there is need for a new constitution. As it is now, the document gives practically absolute power to the President.

But as clashes continue in Tahrir Square between anti-government protestors and Mubarak supporters (who the protestors and human rights groups claim are plainclothed members of Mubarak's national guard), Egypt's future remains in question.

I do not really care who will be next, but I hope there will be free media, free elections, for real this time. I hope that Egypt will have a government of technocrats—know hows—people who will run the country in the best way, not in the old fashioned way of cronyism and corruption and intimidation of other voices.

What do you hope for Egypt's future?