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How to avoid chaos after Mubarak

  • Fareed Zakaria: Hosni Mubarak can't stay in office until September elections
  • He says Egyptian president should announce resignation, transition process
  • Zakaria says it's crucial to have a revised constitution for free, fair elections
  • He also says protection of human rights, including free press, is essential

Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET Sundays and on CNN International at 2 and 10 p.m. Central European Time/ 5 p.m. Abu Dhabi/ 9 p.m. Hong Kong.

New York (CNN) -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement Tuesday that he will turn over power to an elected successor in September doesn't go nearly far enough, says analyst Fareed Zakaria.

"Mubarak is going to have to go," Zakaria said in an interview, adding that he will not be able to stay in office for eight more months. "But the manner in which he goes and the nature of the transition is going to be very important. So I hope the United States is using what influence it has to try to make sure that there's a transition that makes sense and doesn't lead to chaos or allowing any one group to capture the political process."

Mubarak's announcement that he would end his 30 years of rule in September came after massive protests in Egypt for the past eight days. But many protesters proclaimed they were unsatisfied with his statement and called for him to leave office immediately.

The author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" spoke to CNN on Thursday. Here is an edited transcript:

Chaos in Tahrir Square
Crowds turn violent in Tahrir Square
Protesters bloodied in Cairo
Mobilized against Mubarak

CNN: What do you think of the way the administration is handling the crisis in Egypt?

Fareed Zakaria: I think the administration is getting the balance right now, if reports are correct that President Obama has delivered a message to Mubarak that urges him to announce that he will not seek the presidency again. But privately U.S. officials should be further urging that he announce a transition plan immediately. He won't be able to stick around till September.

CNN: So what should happen next?

Zakaria: The best course would be for Mubarak to get ahead of these events and announce a process by which it is clear that he is not going to be president.

I think there is a technical problem that most people have not focused on. Under the Egyptian constitution, if Mubarak resigns, it immediately triggers a new election within 60 days. And in the midst of everything that is going on in Egypt, that is not the ideal solution.

So perhaps what he should do is announce that he's going to resign at a certain point -- but in the interim create a constitutional committee that can amend or rewrite the Egyptian constitution so that all elections, parliamentary or presidential, take place under new rules which will be free and fair, unlike the old rules that were completely stacked in favor of Mubarak and his party.

CNN: What's the potential path to democracy in Egypt?

Zakaria: I think there will have to be a much greater role for public participation, elections and democracy. The more difficult part is: Will there be a transition to constitutionalism, the rule of law and the protection of human rights?

That's always been the tricky part in these kinds of circumstances. You want to make sure that you have protections for minorities, protections for individual rights, independent courts, freedom of press, freedom of association and all those things tend to be the real inner stuffing of democracy. That's why I think having some kind of process and a constitutional order become very important. You know, these sound like technicalities, but at the moment of transition how you deal with these questions has a huge impact on the kind of eventual political system you end up with.

CNN: Why is that so crucial?

Zakaria: If you look at Iraq, it was the decisions made in the first month [after Saddam Hussein's rule ended] that ended up creating the climate for what became a civil war.

We should try as much as we can to help the Egyptians understand that what they want is a transition that ends up producing stable liberal democracy.

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  • Egypt
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The other key is the role of the army. People haven't completely recognized that Egypt is really a military dictatorship, with a civilian at the top.

The army is not going to quietly allow for a democratic order that completely takes away all its powers and privilege, so the army will want to have a very strong role in the process, and that is probably inevitable -- and maybe where the United States has much of its influence because we have maintained pretty good contacts with the army.

CNN: Is a strong role for the army compatible with a more democratic Egypt?

Zakaria: It's compatible as long as the army understands it can't be the old system. In Turkey the army effectively ran the country and began to yield power. It's happened in other countries as well. But unless there's a real process put in place you could easily end up with a pseudo democracy like Pakistan where civilians are elected, but the military wields the real power.

CNN: What are the implications of this for the wider Arab world?

Zakaria: The implications of this will be substantial because Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab world. The two biggest political movements in the Arab world in the past 50 years have been pan-Arabism or Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism, both of them were centered in Egypt -- pan-Arabism with Nasser and Islamic fundamentalism with the Muslim Brotherhood and also al Qaeda, which was largely a marriage of Egyptian brains and Saudi Arabian money.

You can already see the implications in Jordan. I don't think it means there will be a domino effect and you will see regimes all over the Mideast toppling. But I think you will certainly see a greater demand for accountability and reform, and without any question it will rattle regimes like Syria, and Libya. Whether or not they fall will be a case by case situation. Most of these regimes are very tough police states, so it is not really that easy to protest or do things that would undermine the regime. But I think we're entering a new era in the Middle East, and I think it's impossible that things will remain the same in any of those countries.

CNN: Was America blindsided by these events?

Zakaria: I don't think that's true. The Americans for 15 years now have been urging the Mubarak regime to engage in serious political reforms. The reality is that people sometimes exaggerate American influence. And there was in Washington a concern that you did need Egypt to maintain a peaceful border with Israel, to enforce the embargo on Hamas, to fight al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Now perhaps this led to us not pushing political reform strongly enough. But since the presidency of Bush senior, Washington has been pushing these issues.

The truth is that the Mubarak regime was a very tough unyielding regime that had decided that it was not going to do any political reform. I think that in the face of that, it was difficult to see how we could have had a huge impact.

But the broader point I'd make is that the reason this is happening in Egypt is that they are aware of the wider world, they are aware that the United States was pushing for reform. They see openness in other parts of the world. This is partly a desire of Egypt to catch up with the rest of the world and become like other modern countries.

Watch Fareed Zakaria GPS Sundays at 10am and 1pm ET. For the latest from Fareed Zakaria GPS click here.

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