Foreign Policy Blogs

The Steering Committee

Though the opposition in Egypt is frequently presented as a bottom-up movement, there is, in fact, a top-down element to it.  As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the opposition is being led by a ten-person steering committee.  This committee arose from a 100-person shadow parliament established in Egypt well before the protests broke out.  Strangely, the shadow parliament’s inaugural session was scheduled for last Sunday.  They were planning on electing a spokesperson, but given the upheaval, they instead selected this ten-person committee to provide “informal leadership” to the protest movement.

The committee decided to reject the Egyptian government’s offer to engage in talks until after Mubarak steps down.  And hence we have the current stand-off, with ElBaradei (a steering committee member) saying of Mubarak that protests will cease only “once he’s out of the country” and Mubarak saying he will “die on the soil of Egypt.”

So while there is much to watch (as my FPA colleagues have been diligently covering), one thing to keep an eye on is this committee.  It’s incredibly cohesive right now.  They are focused on forcing Mubarak to step down before they engage in talks with the government.  And, through ElBaradei, they have framed this precondition in an extremely forceful manner, leaving themselves no room to backtrack.  The Obama administration has reportedly been pushing the Mubarak government to yield to the steering committee’s demand.  And though, as I wrote earlier this week, the thing to watch is the military, the other thing to watch is where the military gets its money.  According to The New York Times, “American officials have told Egyptian officials that if they support another ‘strong man’ to replace Mr. Mubarak — but without a specific plan and timetable for moving toward democratic elections — the U.S. Congress might react by freezing military assistance…”  This could be the determining factor.  But how well will the committee continue to hold together?  If they do see some success, at what point will their cohesion splinter as they scramble to divide the spoils of political victory?