Mubarak's choices

President George W. Bush and Egyptian Presiden...Image via Wikipedia
Stephen Hadley:

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At present, the two most probable outcomes of the current crisis are a lame-duck Mubarak administration or a Mubarak departure from power in favor of a transitional government backed by the Egyptian military.

Under the first outcome, President Mubarak rides out the current crisis. Presidential elections are expected in September of this year. It seems unlikely that either President Mubarak or his son Gamal will conclude that under current circumstances they can run and win. That will leave President Mubarak presiding over a lame-duck administration. The issue will be whether he seeks to transfer power to another authoritarian strongman backed by the army or dramatically changes course and uses the upcoming presidential election to create a democratic transition for his country.

The precedents for this latter outcome are few but not nonexistent. It is essentially the role that the Bush administration urged on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, which he played successfully in 2008. The resulting government is admittedly a weak one that continues to cause the U.S. real problems in Afghanistan. But it is a democratic government, and by its coming to power we avoided the kind of Islamist regime that followed the fall of the Shah of Iran and that has provoked three decades of serious confrontation with the U.S. and totalitarian oppression of the Iranian people.

Under the second outcome, President Mubarak surrenders power and is replaced by a transitional government supported by the Egyptian military. The presidential elections then become the vehicle for transferring power to a government whose legitimacy comes from the people.

Either way, Egyptian society needs time to prepare for these elections and to begin to remediate the effects of years of government oppression. The Egyptian people should not have to choose only between the government-backed NDP and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Non-Islamist parties need an opportunity to emerge to fill in the intervening political space. Time is short even if the presidential elections go forward as expected in September. The U.S. should resist the temptation to press for an accelerated election schedule. Hopefully wise heads in Egypt will do the same.

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Hadley points out that Mubarak had offered the false choice of him or the Muslim Brotherhood during the Bush administration when we were trying to persuade him to open the country to a real democracy. Instead the government suppressed independent parties and only the underground Muslim Brotherhood was left to compete. The Egyptians would have been better served listening to what President Bush was suggesting.

The administration appears to trying to slow things down and steer the army toward  a transitional government with the fair and free election in September.
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