According to al-Arabiya, Hosni Mubarak will announce on Egyptian television tonight that he will not run for reelection, but that he will stay in office until the September 2011 elections.
While Mubarak might have done wonders for Arab democracy if he had stepped down after two terms — establishing the precedent that there is such a thing as a living and not-exiled Arab ex-president — now it is too little, too late. Chaos will reign in Egypt unless Mubarak leaves the country and, from an American standpoint, this will empower more radical elements in society to rally against Mubarak.
What is needed now is a technocratic transitional government to lead the country until September 2011. Mohamed ElBaradei is probably not the man to lead it. Certainly, he’s not one who can stand up and condemn corruption with a straight face. And while he’s loved by the diplomats, his credentials are all from outside Egypt. ElBaradei knows as much about what ordinary Egyptians feel as I know about what it’s like to be an Eskimo.
What worries me is this: Today marks the 32nd anniversary of Khomeini’s return to Iran. Most people making dark allusions to Iran forget that more than nine months passed between Khomeini’s return and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. The question then becomes, what grievances can the Muslim Brotherhood or other anti-Western forces manufacture in those nine months to try to appeal beyond their natural constituency of perhaps 25 percent? (I discuss this in a piece I did for AOL today.)
While President Obama and Secretary Clinton are doing about as well as could be expected in handling the crisis once it erupted — Biden, alas, has hurt U.S. interests with his comments — the real issue is what we do to (1) quickly establish a transitional government; (2) put out the sparks the Muslim Brotherhood creates during the transition, as they try to inflame the Egyptian tinderbox; and (3) ensure that elections are contested only by those groups which eschew violence and accept the Egyptian constitution. President Obama should not repeat President Bush’s mistake and enable political groups which maintain militias to claim the mantle of electoral legitimacy.