The Case Against Caution: Obama Should Be Proactive in Egypt

Backing Mubarak's transition plan is wrong and could squelch Egypt's chances for democracy

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Frustrating anti-government protesters, the U.S. is now openly backing the Egyptian government's proposed transition process. On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that an abrupt departure of President Hosni Mubarak could hinder Egypt's progress towards democracy. The State Department then endorsed Mubarak's plan to enact reforms led by Omar Suleiman, the newly-appointed vice president. Suleiman, however, has done a fairly rotten job of endearing himself to reformers, saying the country doesn't yet have a "culture of democracy" and that demand for democracy "comes from abroad." We're starting to see a number pundits turn against President Obama's cautious strategy, saying the only risk to democracy is Mubarak and his immediate departure should be encouraged.

  • Obama Needs to Pick Sides, writes Ari Berman at The Nation: "It’s hard to know if we’re witnessing the transition to democracy the Obama administration called for or a farce in which Suleiman and remnants of the Mubarak regime rig the democratic process and consolidate their power in advance of promised elections in September...This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the exact time when the Obama Administration, after hedging its bets for two weeks, needs to make clear which side it’s on."
  • Obama Is Being Played for a Fool, writes The Washington Post editorial board:

The Obama administration has said it wants a free election, and it has called on Mr. Suleiman to include all opposition movements in his talks and to begin taking specific steps to open the political system. But the measures the regime has taken, such as announcing the prosecution of a pro-business member of Mr. Mubarak's cabinet and granting a 15 percent pay increase to state employees, are intended to deflect rather than respond to the demand for change. If the regime succeeds in this strategy, Egyptian supporters of democracy will be marginalized and embittered. And given the administration's policy, they probably will blame the United States.

  • Obama Should Be More Pro-Active, writes Michael Rubin, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank:

So long as Mubarak remains in power, the most radical elements will use his presence as an irritant against which to rally. If Obama and Secretary Clinton try to take a legalistic approach now, they will alienate the protesters. After all, Mubarak’s behavior was little grounded in Egyptian constitutionalism. Instead they should be proactive: They should support establishment of a technocratic transitional government, use their soapbox to help it make the necessary legal changes to ensure a smooth election according to a set time line, and then welcome Egypt’s new democratic order.

  • The Time for Waiting Is Over, writes Marwan Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "Whether Mubarak is ousted today or in a few months, Washington needs to support a real and sustained transition to democracy that begins now. The important thing for the United States is to support a serious political reform process that moves Egypt down the road to democracy without being sidetracked by half steps."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.