When it happens, it will rock the world, at least briefly: octogenarian Hosni Mubarak, President of the largest Arab country for over a quarter century, will leave office, either by his own decision or that of Providence, probably within the next three years. So far, few in the West have paid much attention. But Egyptians certainly are getting ready, and we should do so as well.

The question is not so much one of stability. Few expect a succession in Egypt to be violent. And Egypt’s basic strategic orientation (allied with the United States, at peace with Israel, working on behalf of regional stability) is unlikely to change. What is at issue, rather, is how seriously a new leader will pursue domestic political and economic reforms, which are critical to revitalizing a nation of eighty million that is slipping further and further behind in global competitiveness. While sudden, radical change is unlikely, most Egyptians are hoping that a new leadership will re-open the window for political reform that emerged briefly in 2004–05, which was then slammed shut when the country’s main opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, did well in parliamentary elections.

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