The Obama administration changed its position because it realized Mubarak will not likely withstand the protests. Soldiers are siding with the protesters and not enforcing the curfew. The military noticeably protected buildings like the Egyptian Museum, but not the NDP headquarters. In past nonviolent revolutions, the willingness of the military and police to fire upon protesters has played a pivotal role in determining the success of the protests.
Mubarak fired his cabinet and named the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as his vice president, and the former air force chief and minister of aviation, Ahmed Shafiq, as prime minister. The moves are widely seen as futile, merely shuffling around all too familiar players. Suleiman is fiercely loyal to Mubarak.
The U.S. considered Egypt a friendly regime under Mubarak, providing it with billions of dollars of aid over the past 30 years. Last year the U.S. gave the regime $1.3 billion, and this year the Obama administration is requesting $1.5 billion in aid. U.S. F-16s and tanks are being used by the government in the crackdown. The protesters are concerned that U.S. aid is preventing them from toppling the regime. Crowds chanted, "Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans." However, other protesters carried posters that said, “America, we don’t want to hurt you,” making a distinction between the U.S. and Mubarak’s regime.
If Mubarak steps down, there is some concern that he would be replaced with a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship, merely trading a secular dictatorship for an Islamic one. The economic failure of a country can leave it susceptible to radical Islamist extremists taking over. The Muslim Brotherhood is supporting Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei for president. A recent Pew poll of Egyptians found that 59 percent prefer “Islamists” and only 27 percent prefer “modernizers.” 20 percent said they like al Qaeda, 30 percent like Hezbollah, and 49 percent like Hamas. Many believe, however erroneously, that the Brotherhood would increase freedom rather than limit it.
The Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, although members have been elected to parliament as independents. The Brotherhood denounces al Qaeda and violent Islamic extremism. However, if the Brotherhood ends up in power, it could erode the 30 years of stability brought about by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Mubarak has taken a moderate approach towards Israel, which has served to restrain other Arab states. For these reasons, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ambivalent about whether a regime change in Egypt at this time would be in Israel’s best interests.
With Mubarak’s resignation likelier than not, it is imperative that the Obama administration come out strongly on the side of the protesters advocating for democracy and reform. The U.S. must send a message to Egypt that it supports democracy and objects to the suppression of freedom, whether by secular or theocratic regimes.
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