Why Is Obama Giving Up on Mubarak?

White House "sees no scenario' in which Egyptian president stays in office

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Hosni Mubarak is now willing to talk to the opposition about reform, but it looks like the offer is too little too late. The Obama administration "sees no scenario" in which the Egyptian president can cling to power, The Wall Street Journal reports. Mubarak's opposition won't talk to him, and the Egyptian army has promised to allow a million-man protest to proceed peacefully in Cairo.

A meeting of top aides in the Roosevelt Room began with the National Security Council's Dan Shapiro warning that "time was of the essence," the newspaper says. The debate in Egypt is moving swiftly, with calls for Mubarak to resign evolving into calls for his trial--indicating it could devolve into violence. The administration is still not publicly calling on Mubarak to quit; it is, however, now communicating with a "broad cross-section of opposition." That does not include Mohamed ElBaradei, whom much of the opposition--even the Muslim Brotherhood--now supports. But for the first time ever, the White House is saying the Muslim Brotherhood should have a role in a new Egyptian government, as long as it renounces violence. Here are, roughly speaking, the three camps as people react to this change of position.

Goodbye Mubarak, Hello Muslim Brotherhood?!

  • Muslim Brotherhood Is a No-Go, The National Review's Stanley Kurtz argues. "Mubarak’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood has hampered its ability to recruit," but "with the group legitimated, and with Egypt’s economic troubles unlikely to abate, the Brotherhood could easily turn into a refuge for the country’s legions of frustrated and unemployed young men." He adds that he "expect[s] negative effects on Egypt’s foreign policy from a ruling coalition including the Muslim Brothers."
  • Israel Stabbed in the Back, Reuters' Douglas Hamilton reports that some Israeli commentators are complaining, "express[ing] shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness," Hamilton writes. Example: Aviad Pohoryles, writing in Maariv, wondered who is telling the U.S. state department "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East? ... The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations ... is painfully naive."

Obama Should Push Harder Against Mubarak:

  • Go Public, Think Progress's Max Bergmann writes. Mubarak is on the way out, so should Obama be seen as helping protesters or staying respectful to a longtime ally? "They are clearly choosing the latter. The problem is that this is a very hard needle to thread, and it doesn’t appear that they are threading it. By carefully parsing their words, the Administration appears to be pleasing no one." Demonstrators aren't satisfied, Israel and Arab allies aren't satisfied--in part because they know the U.S. is probably very influential behind closed doors. Yet by publicly appearing hands-off, the U.S. will have little leverage with the opposition once it takes over. On the other hand, if it calls for Mubarak to step down, "the US would be seen in Egypt and the region as contributing to the effort to bring about democratic change."
  • Murbarak and Jr. Must Not Run for Office, John Kerry writes in The New York Times. "It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge 'fair' elections... The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."

Obama Has No Other Options:

The US can’t afford to be seen overtly pitching Mubarak over the side, not after getting nearly 30 years of normalization with Israel from him, a policy which is deeply unpopular among the protesters and especially with the Muslim Brotherhood. That kind of abandonment would have serious consequences for our relationship with Jordan, for one example, and with Israel itself. The White House has sided with the right of political expression and urged Mubarak to reform, which would necessarily lead to the end of his regime, without calling for an end to it explicitly, and pledging to work with Mubarak on a legitimate transition. That leaves our credibility with other allies in the region less damaged, while aligning ourselves with the values for which we stand.
  • Best Opposition We Can Expect, Commentary's Max Boot writes. Mohamed ElBaradei has become a leader of the opposition, to some conservatives' horror. "I am hardly one to romanticize [him]... But what do his critics propose we do anyway? Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself ... So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators..."
  • Remember Eastern Europe, The National Review's Jonah Goldberg says. Goldberg is no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, but "what do you propose [Obama] do? For good or ill, the Brotherhood is a legitimate and authentic political force in Egypt, just as various Communist parties were in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. ... The analogy isn't perfect, obviously.  But it’s not like we can ban the Brotherhood the way the allies banned the Nazis in postwar Germany."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.