In a statement that indicates the shallowness of the Obama administration’s knowledge of Egyptian conditions, Clinton, in comparing Mubarak with the Tunisian president who abandoned his country after two weeks of disturbances, said: “It is striking that in Tunisia, Ben Ali…didn’t have the depth of support within the institutions of his government that would have enabled him even to attempt to hang on…”
Clinton also cited Egyptian constitutional niceties for not having Mubarak step down now, although these niceties did not seem to play any role last week when the White House wanted him out. The Secretary of State also did not mention the Egyptian opposition’s solution to any constitutional problems, which was to simply suspend the constitution for the transition period.
But it was Frank Wiesner, the special envoy who had asked Mubarak last week to step down only a few days earlier, who did the biggest about-face. At the Munich conference, he said: “President Mubarak’s role remains extremely critical in the days ahead.” Hilary Clinton, it was reported, did not contradict his statement.
The Obama administration’s policy in regard to the Egyptian situation appears to be following a crooked line. First, it backed Mubarak, believing he would be able to control the situation with Clinton even calling his government stable. When the protests grew in size, however, the administration switched sides, supported the anti-government demonstrators, and attempted to force Mubarak out. After Mubarak demonstrated his mettle and would not leave, the White House changed course once again, dropping its campaign to dump him and leaving the demonstrators to twist in the wind with respect to their demand that Mubarak resign.
And don’t expect things to get any better. With such shifting in positions, one must ask whether the instability is in the White House rather than in Egypt. The only constant position Obama has followed is his stated willingness to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in any post-Mubarak Egyptian government. He reiterated this troubling position again on Sunday in an interview with Bill O’Reilly.
Considering its record so far, the best action the Obama administration can take now regarding Egypt, except for sending humanitarian aid, is to stand back and let the Egyptians handle their own transition to democracy. Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has already opened negotiations with the opposition forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood. No one knows better the danger the Brotherhood represents than Suleiman who, as head of the Mukhabarat, imprisoned hundreds of them. Mubarak also knows the Islamists’ murderous capability, since he was on the reviewing stand when they killed his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
In a CNN interview, reported in the New York Times, Rashid Mohammed Rashid, a former Egyptian trade and industry minister, confirms this would be the best option for the Obama administration. Speaking of the White House pressuring Mubarak to resign, Rashid said that “there was too much interference.”
“I think the position of President Obama, the position of the American government was extremely short-sighted, I don’t want even to say stupid,” he said. “They shouldn’t actually get involved in this.”
Mubarak is here to stay until September’s election. Having been surprised by events in Tunisia and Egypt and lacking a plan for this turmoil, the Obama administration should acknowledge defeat regarding the Egyptian president and refrain from efforts to oust him. That would only lead to even greater turmoil, which is the last thing Egypt needs.