Mubarak's Delayed Resignation First Embarrasses Then Relieves Us

By Hürriyet Daily News | by ÜMİT ENGİNSOY
Friday, February 11th, 2011 @ 4:49AM

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Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 19 hours of maneuvering before finally being forced to step down initially embarrassed and eventually relieved the United States, one of the key engineers of the resignation plan.

The historic announcement was made late Friday live on state television by Vice President Omar Suleiman, who said Mubarak, on the 18th day of anti-government protests, handed over power to the military. Several hundred thousand protesters massed in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded into joy, cheering and waving Egyptian flags.

On Thursday night, after having raised expectations that he would resign, Mubarak refused to step down, only transferring some of his powers to Suleiman. Friday morning, the powerful military first seemed to have thrown its support behind Mubarak’s move, which had embarrassed and disappointed the United States.

Only hours before Mubarak’s speech, CIA Director Leon Panetta had told Congress there was “a strong likelihood” that the Egyptian leader was on his way out and could step down as early as Thursday night. Egypt’s military had also assured protesters that “their demands would be met.”

Initially, none of this happened, and Mubarak said he would be staying on as president until the election in September. But he pledged reforms and said these would be carried out by Suleiman. His remarks prompted a huge wave of protests. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said Egypt was exploding and called for a military takeover.

The U.S.-based global intelligence institution Stratfor, in a red alert released shortly after Mubarak’s speech, said the military’s “goal is not to save Mubarak but to save the regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser” in 1952, predicting a possible coup before dawn Friday.

The “effective coup” came in Friday evening, when Suleiman announced his former chief’s resignation. Under the most recent arrangement, “the armed forces council” will retain the powers of the president. Suleiman, himself a target of the public protests, is expected to remain vice president to oversee the planned reforms.

American pressure

Throughout Friday, enormous U.S. pressure reportedly continued to force Mubarak out, and the Egyptian military joined the same effort in behind-the-scenes actions.

Originally, an apparently disappointed U.S. President Barack Obama, in a written statement following Mubarak’s speech, urged the Egyptian leadership to offer a “concrete path to democracy.”

“Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy,” Obama said, “and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world.”

At the end, and ahead of the real resignation announcement Friday, the 82-year-old Mubarak, the ruler of Egypt for the past 30 years, already had flown to his palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he often lived and worked during the winter.

Apart from the glitch about the timing of Mubarak’s resignation, a general U.S. approach on Egypt, which has been in place for at least a week that “the de facto military Egyptian regime should continue under a new format,” remains in place.

Under immense pressure from Israel, the Obama administration is also close to the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest and best-organized opposition group in Egypt, should be kept out of power, at least in the foreseeable future. But the modality of how this could be done is far from being clear.
Created in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational movement and the world’s oldest and largest Islamist political group. Israel views the Brotherhood as an existential threat. It fears that free elections in Egypt soon would greatly strengthen the Brotherhood, which even may come to power.

Israel and the United States fear that the Muslim Brotherhood may abrogate a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and may turn Egypt into another Iran if it comes to power.

What kind of democracy?

During weeks of the Egyptian ordeal, there were signs of cracks within the U.S. administration on Egypt policies. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that the “realist” camp in the administration is confronting an “idealist” camp. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are among the officials who worry about regional stability.

Meanwhile, many U.S. Jews are jittery over the Muslim Brotherhood’s potential role in Egypt. Rachel Ehrenfeld, founder of the right-leaning American Center for Democracy, says: “The Muslim Brotherhood does not mean the same thing when they use the word democracy. There is no such thing as a fundamentalist, Islamic democracy. It’s an oxymoron.”

Essam El-Errian, a member of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, said in an oped in Friday’s International Herald Tribune that his group supports democracy, but its own version of it.

“We disagree with the claims that the only options in Egypt are a purely secular, liberal democracy or an authoritarian theocracy. Secular liberal democracy of the American and European variety, with its firm rejection of religion in public life, is not the exclusive model for a legitimate democracy. In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage,” he said.

Categories: Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood

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