A Note of Skepticism

by Matthew Shaffer

I don’t doubt that what is happening in Cairo right now is hugely significant, or that there is a serious possibility that Mubarak will step down tonight, but I want to add two dissents and an addendum to the general media narrative I’ve seen.

1. All of the reports that Mubarak will step down tonight, and even CIA director Leon Panetta’s statement of the probability of a Mubarak departure, are based on precisely two statements from one NDP leader (Hossam Badrawy), statements which themselves are slightly ambiguous (see below). But the media ran away with them. Something prompted Badrawy to say what he did — but that something could be an internal factional dispute, dissolution in the presidential palace, intentional disinformation, or even a misunderstanding. I think it is probable that his report is accurate, and Mubarak will announce his stepping down. But that probability is below 100% and well below what the media would lead us to believe.

2. Even if Mubarak does step down, unless some ingenious plan to hand all power to the military is concocted, he will be deferring to Vice President Omar Suleiman. That will be a change more symbolic than real, and may not alter very much. Suleiman, like Mubarak, has a reputation for being anti-democratic, engaging in human-rights abuses, and being allied with the United States and Israel. The protesters simply will not be satisfied with a transfer of power to him, and it may not even do much to change the U.S.’s policy and stance toward the situation an Egypt.

3. The really key factor here appears to be the military: Their gnomic statements this morning (“all your demands will be realized”) combined with their increased presence on the streets and these surprising announcements from within the presidential palace, indicate that they are doing something important behind the scenes. But it’s impossible to tell, just yet, what that thing is.