If anyone doubted that it was time for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down, Wednesday’s events should have persuaded them otherwise. After announcing on Tuesday evening that he had no intention of running for another term in September’s presidential elections, Mubarak turned to armed thugs to attempt to quash protests in major cities in an effort to give himself another eight months in power.
The army, which until now appeared to be siding with the protesters, stood idly by and, by some accounts, allowed armed pro-Mubarak militants through security checkpoints. The military now appears to be aiding and abetting the lawlessness that has ravaged Cairo and other major cities.
These developments make it even more important that the Obama administration send a clear and unequivocal message to Mubarak and the military leadership that it is time for a new government. Newly minted Vice President Suleiman and other senior officials are now complicit in the latest violence and will not be accepted as legitimate leaders by a majority of the people.
It is right to be concerned about what will emerge once Mubarak does hand over power, but the solution is not for conservatives to cling to the supposed stability represented by Mubarak. Mubarak is finished. As long as chaos and uncertainty reign, the more likely it will be that extremist elements in the Muslim Brotherhood or elsewhere take advantage of the situation, just as the Islamists did during Iran’s drawn-out revolution in 1978–79.
The longer the United States remains unwilling to engage publicly and clearly, for fear of being seen as “meddling,” the more dangerous the situation becomes. Despite the fearmongering about an Islamist Egypt hostile to American and Israeli interests, we still have time to achieve the best possible solution, a moderate, secular government elected by the people. As long as Mubarak and his cronies stay in power, this becomes more difficult to achieve. The clock is ticking.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.