The Corner

Egypt: What Next?

Three cheers for the Egyptian people. Mubarak’s departure can be good news, but now the real challenges begin. 

Who is in charge? The army is not monolithic. I’d be looking to see what Chief of Staff Sami Anan is doing. He is much more respected in Egyptian society than either Defense Minister Tantawi or Vice President Suleiman.

What should the Obama administration do now?

  • Obama tried to straddle the fence during the uprising; neutrality is not an option now.  Obama should welcome accountability and enunciate a clear timeline for the transition.  For example, he should say that only new elections in September 2011 will give Egypt a legitimate government. The army has vested economic interests in Egypt, and may seek to keep control to keep their pocketbooks secure. Remember, Egypt has not fought a war since 1973, and so most Egyptians know their generals not as warriors, but rather as businessmen. There will be a temptation among some to ask why right the United States has to suggest anything.  But if Obama, in a fit of moral equivalency, decides he cannot speak to what would be legitimate in Egypt, then he will concede the role to Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

  • The State Department should avoid the temptation to bless a broad-based transitional government. Not only would this be unwieldy and lead to infighting over who is included and excluded and who has what role, but it could open Egypt more easily to a Kerensky moment.

  • If the army controls the transition, then it is time for the U.S. Congress to impose conditionality on American military aid in order to influence the Egyptian army’s behavior during this time.

  • Egypt faces a danger of one man, one vote, one time. The Obama administration should join with any European allies it has left and other regional allies to define both who is a legitimate participant, and what checks-and-balances are necessary to prevent the domination of any single group.

  • There were nine months between the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran, and the hostage drama during which time radical Islamists hijacked the revolution by seizing upon populist issues. President Obama should deprive the Muslim Brotherhood of this opportunity by demanding the immediate repatriation of the money Mubarak squirreled away. Let Mubarak retire on his military pension; he should not retire on $40 billion.

  • The State Department should monitor the accessibility of Egyptian state-owned media to all political parties and, likewise, ensure that newsprint is available to all newspapers (rationing newsprint is a common Middle Eastern form of control). We should not hesitate to be the voice of transparency.

  • President Obama should also consider the bigger picture. We are in a proxy war with Iran for influence, whether we like it or not. Just as Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad are declaring the Egyptian uprising their own, why not have President Obama call on the Iranian people to rise up and follow the Egyptian example for true accountability and democracy?

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.


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