Essam Sharaf, a former minister-turned-protester at Tahrir Square, was feted by tens of thousands of ordinary people when he returned to the square yesterday as their new Prime Minister, wading into a sea of humanity – without any sign of a security detail.
“I am here because I get my legitimacy from you,” Essam told the crowd, as he stressed his commitment to a transition to democracy while urging the crowd to be patient.
Few, however, are under any illusions about the gargantuan task ahead of them. The country still has a long way to go in reforming its economy, dismantling its repressive institutions especially state security, releasing all political prisoners, and dealing with conservative politicians, vested business interests and the military.
Who is Essam Sharaf? Wikipedia describes him as follows:
Sharaf took a post as a visiting assistant professor at Purdue in 1984 before becoming assistant professor of Highway and Traffic Engineering at the University of Cairo the following year. In 1990, he was an assistant professor in Civil Engineering at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. He returned to the University of Cairo in 1991, becoming a professor of Highway Engineering in 1996. Sharaf was the senior adviser to the Egyptian Minister of Transport in 1999 and the Senior Technical Adviser to the municipality of Al Ain in the UAE in 2003.
He served as Egyptian Minister of Transportation from July 2004 to December 2005, before allegedly resigning in protest. Following his resignation, he returned to academia, accepting a post at Cairo University, where he remained a vocal critic of the Mubarak regime, particularly with respect to its handling of Egypt’s public transportation infrastructure. He was asked by Egypt’s governing military council to form a government on 3 March 2011, following the resignation of Ahmed Shafik.
Sharaf was present and active at the Tahrir Square protests, which endeared him to the leaders of the democracy movement and led them to suggest his name to the Military Council as a possible replacement for Shafik. On 4 March the day after his appointment to the Prime Ministership, he addressed crowds of pro-democracy activists at Tahrir square shortly after Friday prayers, an unusual move for an Egyptian politician. In his speech to them he reiterated his commitment to democratic transition, but pleaded for patience.
Juan Cole of Informed Comment says the Arab revolution is still unfinished:
In Egypt, protesters still want a lifting of emergency laws that suspend the civil liberties in the constitution. They also want the army to release protesters arrested during the movement to oust Mubarak, and they want the secret police to be abolished. They likewise demand accountability and the punishment of government officials who ordered the brutal crackdown on protesters that left hundreds dead.
Of all the protest movements in the Middle East this year, only those of Tunisia and Egypt have effected a change in the character of the political elite and set the nation on a road to open parliamentary elections. Jordanians who want a constitutional monarchy have seen few changes, though they did force the sacking of a hated prime minister. Ali Abdullah Saleh is still in power in Yemen. There have been no significant changes in Bahrain, an absolute monarchy ruled by a Sunni dynasty with a Shiite citizen majority. Oil workers seeking a better deal in Oman have not had their demands met. Iran’s autocratic theocracy responded to fears of a fresh round of protests by arresting opposition leaders. Algeria’s autocratic and corrupt government has so far quelled popular protests.
One big question is what will happen when a new government is elected in Egypt that springs from the ranks of the protest movement. Saleh in Yemen, and Abdullah II in Jordan, had depended on Hosni Mubarak’s warm support. It could be that further change in the region will come this fall, in part because of Egypt’s leading geo-political role (about 1/4 of the Arab population consists of Egyptians).