A Defiant Mubarak and What Obama Should Do Next
Posted by Joel Rubin
Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refuses to go. Protestors in Tahrir Square are in agony. The Obama administration has just been called out. Now what?
According to Mubarak, the issue is no longer a choice between stability and chaos, but instead one of national pride as embodied in the life story of Hosni Mubarak. To give in to pressure and leave power now would, according to Mubarak, be an insult to all Egyptians. True, the youth of Egypt are to be listened to, but, according to Mubarak, they do not understand what they really need. To him, they’re children.
Mubarak is raising the stakes, daring the Americans to push him out, appealing to patriotism and staring down the protestors. While he verbalized certain concessions that the U.S. has been calling for – although he made sure to say those concessions would only follow after restored stability – it’s clear that he has rebuffed President Obama’s call earlier in the day for a “genuine transition to democracy.” Mubarak’s reputation, which could have been rescued, will now likely be in tatters.
While President Obama should continue to stress that there should be no violence, that there should be a respect for universal human rights, and there should be an immediate political transition, the situation is more dire on the ground now than even a week ago.
Therefore, here are the key questions that the White House needs to ask if it hopes to rescue the situation, with whatever remaining leverage it has at its disposal:
1. What is the Army doing? Will they follow Mubarak? There were rumors earlier in the day that the military would push out Mubarak, call for martial law and make steps to democracy. That scenario appears dashed. The Administration needs to press all its contacts for real answers.
2. What will the protestors do? Will more come out tomorrow? The protestors were planning on one million marchers for tomorrow. Now how many? If they needed anything else to fuel their rage, Mubarak just gave it to them.
3. Is an “orderly transition” to democracy really possible with Suleiman or any other remnant of the Mubarak regime in charge? Mubarak said that he will transfer power to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, and will support changes to the Constitutional amendments, as well as move to end the Emergency Law -- but that has been said before, and Mubarak insisted changes would be made only after stability has been restored, which, after watching the chants from Tahrir, doesn’t seem likely. There’s a credibility problem here.
And here are some recommendations for the White House:
1) Stick to core principles: The White House needs to strongly reiterate its three key points of “no violence,” “respect for human rights,” and “credible transition to democracy”
2) Seek new leverage: The White House needs to explore new routes to sway the behavior of Mubarak and his cohorts. The stale arguments about levels of whether to explicitly call for Mubarak’s resignation or whether to suspend military aid are clearly not enough to sway him. The White House should consider fresh ways to show common cause with the protestors.
3) Stay on the offense: President Obama has been strong in his public statements. Now is not the time to let up, just because Hosni Mubarak said so. Now is the time to keep the pressure on and seek more concrete and viable changes in Mubarak’s decisions.