When Frank Wisner said at the Munich Security Conference that his old friend Hosni Mubarak “must stay in office” to oversee a transition, it was suggested that he was speaking out of turn. Not so fast. Now it seems that Secretary of State Clinton, who sent Wisner as a personal administration envoy to Mubarak, seems to be taking the same line. She has now expressed support for an “orderly” process led by Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s long-time right-hand man.
This may be explained as a tilt toward “safety” and “stability” by the administration. But it is hardly clear that the new administration line is in fact the safest course to take. There is no guarantee that Suleiman will preside over a transition to a genuine democracy; he may very well work to keep the same ruling clique in power with a new front man — possibly himself. As long as a corrupt oligarchy continues to rule, the people will seethe with discontent. These conditions create a fertile breeding ground for the Muslim Brotherhood, as the past three decades have already shown.
At this point, the safest option may well be to make a clean break with Mubarak, inaugurate a transition government, lift the state of emergency, and allow the full blooming of democratic politics. Most analysts knowledgeable about Egyptian politics believe that, under those conditions, the Brotherhood will emerge as a minority party; it has flourished only in an atmosphere of repression because the mosque has been the one part of Egyptian society not fully controlled by the state.
But for that to happen, the administration would have to find the spine to force Mubarak from power. That’s hardly impossible to do since we provide Egypt with some $2 billion in aid. Threaten that money and the incentive for the Egyptian army to toss Mubarak out of office would increase dramatically. So far, however, the administration has not been willing to do that. The result, unfortunately, is to prolong the current crisis and to leave an impression of American impotence.