Thursday, February 10, 2011



My heart bled last night as I watched with millions of Indians the disappointment and anger on the face of the Egyptian people, particularly the youth, as they heard with disbelief the defiant broadcast of discredited President Hosni Mubarak in which he dashed their expectation that he was about to quit in the face of the revolution inspired and led by young people, which has gathered momentum beyond expectation.

2. All sorts of speculative stories were flying across the electronic world. "Mubarak has resigned", "Mubarak has fled the country with US $ 2 billion", "he had pre-recorded his speech before he fled the country"etc. I was reminded of what Indian Air Force (IAF) officers of my vintage, who had served in Egypt and had known Mubarak as an instructor in the Egyptian Air Force Academy, had told me: "Mubarak is a man of great pride. He will die in the country and never flee from it."

3.Mubarak is not the discredited Tunisian President Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia at the height of the recent protest movement against him. He sincerely believes that he played a role in giving pride back to the country after its humiliating defeat by Israel in 1967 and that the Egyptian nation owes him a debt of gratitude for that. Mubarak is a hated despot. He is alleged to be corrupt. He suppressed the will of the people without remorse. But he is not a coward. He will not flee the country and die in foreign soil. That is the impression I had of him.

4. This impression was strengthened by the following Tweet from an unknown Egyptian disseminated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the moments before Mubarak's televised speech: "Mubarak is too proud to step down.. to say it himself.. NO WAY.. honestly I would be surprised if…"

5. As I was awaiting his telecast, I was frequently visiting the Twitter site of Wael Ghonim, the young Egyptian Google executive, who has become a hero of the Egyptian people for leading the uprising with other young Egyptians, to see what were his feelings in those electrifying moments when the Egyptian people and the world with them had convinced themselves that Mubarak is gone or about to go. The following Tweets from Ghonim to his followers caught my attention:

* "Failure is not an option."
* "Guys, don't do much speculation for now, just wait and see. Long live Egypt!"
* "We are hoping that the "Friday of Martyrs" will be the world's largest funeral to bid farewell to 300 Egyptians"
* "Friday of martyrs is still on whatever happens today."
* "Started to rain in Cairo, and I am optimistic. Hoping that sky is crying from happiness"

6. Somehow, I had a gnawing feeling that he was not yet convinced that the exit of Mubarak was in sight. As I kept awake watching the glorious moments in Egypt on the TV and exchanging Tweets with my friends on the evolving situation in Egypt, I sent the following Tweet to my friends in my Twitter group (Ramanthink) : "Under Constitution, if Mub quits Speaker takes over. If he reports sick, Suleiman takes over.If he runs away, it is constitutional crisis."

7. I spent hours last week studying the Egyptian Constitution to see whether there is a constitutional way of bringing about the end of the Mubarak regime. I wrote as follows in my article of February 6 titled "The Egyptian Stand-off" available at : "The problem is while the status quo can be easily changed in the ruling party and the unpopular leaders removed from positions of influence, it is difficult to change it in the Governmental set-up under the present Constitution, which clearly provides that if the President quits, the Speaker of the Parliament would be sworn in as the officiating President till fresh elections are held. Neither Lt.Gen.Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who was recently nominated as the Vice-President by Mubarak, nor El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, whom the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the secular opposition parties are prepared to support as the interim head till the elections are held, can officiate as the President because neither of them is an elected member of the Parliament and because of the specific provision in the Constitution that the Speaker would officiate. However, there is a provision in the Constitution under which Mubarak, while continuing to be the de jure President, can delegate the powers of the President to his Vice-President who will thus become the de facto President and could co-ordinate the arrangements for the elections without Mubarak playing any role in it. It is doubtful whether the protesters would agree to such an arrangement because of the close association of Suleiman with Mubarak for nearly two decades and his equally close association with the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).....Thus, the position is: Suleiman is acceptable to Mubarak and his followers and the US as interim head of a transitional Government, but he may not be acceptable to the protesters. El Baradei may be acceptable to the protesters, but he cannot head the tranitional set-up under the present Constitution."

8. In his televised speech, Mubarak has chosen the constitutional way of easing himself out of the controversy, which has pitted him against his people. While expressing his determination to continue as the President till his term ends in September, he has said that he is transfering some of his powers as the President to the Vice-President without specifying which powers. He said: "I saw fit to delegate presidential jurisdictions to the Vice-President as defined by the constitution. I am certain that Egypt will overcome its crisis." The Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, has been quoted by the BBC as saying Vice President Suleiman is now the "de facto head of state" following Mubarak's speech, but this has not been confirmed.

9. It is doubtful whether there can be a constitutional end to the present crisis. The only way of ending the crisis is for the Army to take over power, suspend the constitution and appoint a transitional Government headed by someone enjoying the confidence of the protesters to pave the way for the election of a new President. From the comments of the protesters and their leaders, it appears they may not be averse to the Army playing a role to bring about the end of Mubarak's regime here and now. But will the Army play the game fairly after the protesters go back to their studies or work and return to the barracks and co-operate with the transitional Govt? That is a question to which it will be difficult to give an answer.

10. Today, there are going to be millions and millions of angry and disappointed Egyptians out in the streets to observe the "Martyrs Day". Will they try to force the exit of Mubarak by marching to his palace? If they try to do so, can there be bloodshed?

11. Egyptians are living through glorious moments. They are living through ennobling moments. They are also living through unchartered moments----moments the like of which their country had not seen before. As Ghonim remarked in one of his Tweets : "I feel that their last line is being written, and soon we're taking the pen to start drawing our own future"

12. Let us wish the Egyptian people all the luck in the world as they try to write a new page in their history. They deserve to prevail. (11-2-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )


Mind Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up

into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason

has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let Egypt awake.

( Adapted From Rabindranath Tagore's poem )



Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, released on February 8,2011, the USA's new National Military Strategy in replacement of the earlier strategy released in 2004 when Mr.George Bush was the President. The text of the new strategy is available at

2. The fight against terrorism and extremism emanating from the Af-Pak and other regions contInues to receive priority in the new strategy too, but the new strategy envisages an enhanced focus on China. It says "The Nation’s strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region. The region's share of global wealth is growing, enabling increased military capabilities. This is causing the region’s security architecture to change rapidly, creating new challenges and opportunities for our national security and leadership. Though still underpinned by the U.S. bilateral alliance system, Asia's security architecture is becoming a more complex mix of formal and informal multilateral relationships and expanded bilateral security ties among states."

3. It also says: "The United States will remain the foremost economic and military power for the foreseeable future, though national debt poses a significant national security risk. Asia will increase its regional share of global wealth. Though it faces a number of domestic challenges, continuation of China’s decades-long economic growth is expected to facilitate its continued military modernization and expansion of its interests within and beyond the region. Other states in Asia, too, are becoming more militarily capable as they grow more prosperous. "

4. It further says of China as follows: "Our Nation seeks a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship with China that welcomes it to take on a responsible leadership role. To support this, the Joint Force seeks a deeper military-to-military relationship with China to expand areas of mutual interest and benefit, improve understanding, reduce misperception, and prevent miscalculation. We will promote common interests through China’s cooperation in countering piracy and proliferation of WMD, and using its influence with North Korea to preserve stability on the Korean peninsula. We will continue to monitor carefully China’s military developments and the implications those developments have on the military balance in the Taiwan Strait. "

5. In a veiled caution to China, the 2011 Strategy says: "We remain concerned about the extent and strategic intent of China’s military modernization, and its assertiveness in space, cyberspace, in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. To safeguard U.S. and
partner nation interests, we will be prepared to demonstrate the will and commit the resources needed to oppose any nation’s actions that jeopardize access to and use of the global commons and cyberspace, or that threaten the security of our allies. "

6. The Strategy has a single sentence reference to India. It says: " We seek expanded military cooperation with India on nonproliferation, safeguarding the global commons, countering terrorism, and elsewhere."

7. It stresses the continued importance of the USA's relations with Japan and South Korea for its Asia-Pacific strategy. It says: "We expect to maintain a strong military presence in Northeast Asia for decades. We will work with the Japan Self-Defense Forces to improve their out-of-area operational capabilities as the nation adjusts its defense posture. The Republic of Korea has proven a steadfast ally supporting U.S. security efforts around the world; our commitment to the Republic of Korea is unwavering as North Korea remains a provocative threat to regional stability. We will retain operational control over combined forces on the Korean peninsula through 2015 and provide assistance to South Korea as it expands its security responsibilities. We will continue to work with Japan and South Korea to help improve security
ties between them, enhance military cooperation, and preserve regional stability. "

8.It explains the continued importance of the fight against terrorism as follows: "There are no more vital interests than the security of the American people, our territory, and our way of life. This is why we are at war in South Central Asia, the epicenter of violent extremism. Afghanistan is where al Qaida, given sanctuary by the Taliban, planned the attacks that murdered more than 3,000 innocent people on 11 September 2001. Al Qaida senior leadership remains in Pakistan and intends to continue to attack the United States, allies, and our
partners. The Nation’s strategic objective in this campaign is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaida and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and prevent their return to either country. Success requires the Joint Force to closely work with NATO, our coalition partners, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We will continue to erode Taliban influence, work with the Afghan government to facilitate reintegration and reconciliation of former insurgents, continue to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces, and enable Pakistan to ultimately defeat al Qaida and its extremist allies. "

9. It says further: "The threat of violent extremism is not limited to South Central Asia. Groups such as Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabaab, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and others emanate from Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere around the globe. Terrorists’ abilities to remotely plan and coordinate attacks is growing, sometimes facilitated by global illicit trafficking routes, extending their operational reach while rendering targeting of their sanctuaries more difficult. Undeterred by the complexity of terrorist networks
and in concert with our Allies and partners, we will be prepared to find, capture, or kill violent extremists wherever they reside when they threaten interests and citizens of America and our allies. " (10-2-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )