Mubarak’s Out: What Next?

by Michael Rubin

The departure of Mubarak will reverberate not only through Egypt but also through the broader Middle East and perhaps beyond it as well.

First, for the United States:

  • Obama must recognize that he is president and not simply a pundit. He must lead and not simply follow. Doing nothing is not neutral; it is a choice. Diplomacy is like a soccer game: Doing nothing is equivalent to standing still while opponents — Iran, Syria, Libya, and perhaps Turkey — kick the ball past you. Inaction or confusion on the soccer field simply makes their job easier. Playing offense sometimes garners the best result for your team which includes not only the United States, but reformers, democrats, and forces for moderation.
  • President Obama should focus on ensuring a smooth and timely transition. Too often, transitional governments in the Middle East last 25 years. At the same time, he should not wring his hands at the military nature of the transitional government, so long as it is temporary. Trying to make the transitional government a microcosm of the Egyptian opposition would be a mistake: Political groups would seek to leverage their government role for special advantage or to conduct dirty tricks. Better, the transitional regime is technocratic with a goal toward engineering an even playing field ahead of the September elections.
  • President Obama should not get too caught up in the legalisms of the Egyptian constitution; Mubarak never did.

Second, for Egypt:

  • Mubarak should recognize that there will be no stability if Omar Suleiman tries to assume power.

Third, for the broader Middle East:

  • There will be reinvigorated protests not only in Yemen, but also in Jordan.
  • The Iraqi Kurds are upset with regional president Masud Barzani’s corruption. Expect demands that he agree to step down and not seek a third term, and also expect demands that his son Masrour — believed responsible for the murders of journalists — step down as well.

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