The Obama administration’s policy on Egypt has now gotten to where it perhaps should have been a week ago — pushing for Mubarak to go and for talks to commence on reforming the constitution to create a “real democracy.” The New York Times reports:
The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.
Once the government initiated violence against the protesters, the Mubarak regime made it impossible for the US and others to remain neutral in their public pronouncements. This was also entirely predictable — the only way to really put down a protest movement as robust as this is through a significant crackdown. American leverage no doubt constrained Mubarak’s ability to usher a more formal crackdown, ala Iran’s on the Green Movement. So instead, in a fairly desperate act, Mubarak tried to mask the crackdown as organic counter-revolutionary protests. That didn’t fool anyone, and as Middle East expert Marc Lynch wrote yesterday:
By unleashing violence and refusing the demand for an immediate, meaningful transition, Mubarak has now violated two clear red lines laid down by the President. There must be consequences. It’s time to meet escalation with escalation and lay out, in private and public, that the Egyptian military now faces a clear and painful choice: push Mubarak out now and begin a meaningful transition, or else face international isolation and a major rupture with the United States.
Indeed, a bipartisan working group of outside experts came to that conclusion as well, in a statement released yesterday:
If the government continues to employ such violence, the United States should immediately freeze all military assistance to Egypt.
Clearly, Mubarak’s departure has become non-negotiable for the protesters. Some have questioned the protesters staying power, but all evidence points to the contrary. We are now in the second week of the protests and they have seemingly gotten stronger. Impressively, the massive rallies today came on the heels of intense violence, which one could expect would serve to deter further protesters. Many protesters now believe that there is no turning back — that either Mubarak goes, or they themselves will end up in prison. There is therefore every reason to believe that as long as Mubarak stays, this will go on.
While Mubarak may stubbornly attempt to hang on, there is also little doubt that the rest of his regime is very nervous about his departure. Unlike Mubarak, who can leave the country and retire in a nice villa, most of the regime will be left behind and fear a loss of institutional privilege and potentially outright persecution.
This is where the US can seem to play a role in trying to calm these fears by urging and facilitating negotiations that lead to a classic “pacted transition” to democracy that gives the regime a clear role in shaping the new constitutional structure. The existing regime could demand, for instance, immunity from prosecution for past acts in government (this was critical in Argentina for example, where the outgoing military junta was worried it would be prosecuted later for the thousands of “disappeared” persons). They could insist on constitutional provisions that prevent any possible Islamification of the state (akin to the framework in Turkey), and finally, they would have a say in shaping the make up of the new political system.
But the problem now is that to get to this stage, Mubarak simply has to go.