Mubarak Leaves Cairo and Confuses the White House

The uncertainty in Egypt has complicated what was already a dicey situation for the Obama Administration

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After the confusion brought on by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's refusal to step down Thursday night, the question of who's in control in Egypt has not become any clearer as the New York Times and other outlets have reported that Mubarak has left Cairo. The uncertainty of the situation has left the White House scrambling for options. At 7:52 p.m. last night, the President issued a statement making it clear the White House expected his resignation. "We ... urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek," he wrote. "The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people."

 Here's a window into the confusion the White House is facing following Mubarak's surprising speech:
  • It's a Catch 22, writes Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:
No matter what the Obama White House does, it risks the appearance of doing too little and appearing weak or too much and being criticized for overthrowing a sovereign government. The coming days will be a test of Barack Obama's skills at walking a tightrope
As the protesters in Tahrir Square demand revolutionary change from their government, another argument is taking place inside the Obama administration as it struggles with its message on Egypt. In one camp, say some reports, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Decretary Robert Gates are turned — concerned with regional stable and are pushing for a process led by Egypt’s Vice President, Omar Suleiman. In the other camp, younger voices from Obama’s presidential campaign including national security council staff members Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power have been arguing that Mubarak’s regime is finished and it’s time to fully support the protesters. Rhodes wrote President Obama’s “a new beginning,” that called for democratic reforms in the Arab world.
  • The White House Appears Wholly Inept, writes Stuart Gottlieb, a director of policy studies at Yale University:
What is troubling is that the White House did not see this coming - that they actually believed they could get ahead of the popular spin and position themselves as the shovers and shapers of Egypt's new tomorrow. Heck, all they had to do was convince Hosni Mubarak to resign in disgrace, right? How hard could that be? Very, of course.

Obama's Egypt policy has now gone from incoherent to inconsistent to rudderless. Not a good place to be in one of the most pivotal and volatile regions in the world.
To some extent, Mr. Mubarak opened the door for President Obama to appeal even more directly to the protesters, some of whom have felt betrayed by the administration’s cautious approach, saying it placed strategic interests ahead of democratic values. In his speech, Mr. Mubarak said he would not brook foreign interference, suggesting that he was digging in his heels after days of prodding by the United States for “immediate, irreversible” change.

Egyptian officials said Mr. Mubarak gave the Obama administration much of what it wanted: the delegation of presidential powers to the vice president, Omar Suleiman. They said Mr. Mubarak had all but been rendered a figurehead leader, precisely the formulation set out by U.S. officials over the weekend.

But Mr. Mubarak's language and refusal to yield to what he called the intervention of foreigners left protesters furious, the scene in Cairo precarious and the White House seemingly unable to influence events.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.