Mubarak stays on: Key questions and answers
Steve Clemons/Yahoo News
Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stunned protesters in Cairo and proved numerous reports wrong Thursday when he announced in a televised speech that he would not step down from the presidency or leave the country. Instead, he handed his powers over to Vice President Omar Suleiman. (Latest developments)
Mubarak’s surprising and confusing announcement raises numerous questions about what is happening in Egypt. Here are some answers:
Who is really in charge now—the military, Vice President Omar Suleiman or Mubarak?
Mubarak clearly has major political and institutional influence in the current political order — despite the upheaval — that continues to help him survive. Mubarak matters. Suleiman’s influence is growing dramatically. The military matters — but they are all slightly different nuances of the same political order. There is no clear, visible split between these parties at the time of this writing, and thus while Suleiman and the army are clearly gaining influence, the Mubarak franchise still remains definitive and at the helm
Why did Mubarak not step down, as rumored?
At this point, all we can do is speculate. Given the statement from the military earlier in the day that “all of the protesters’ demands would be met,” expectations were raised that Mubarak would resign and leave the country. His failure to do so could indicate that either there is a serious split in the national security structure in Egypt that Mubarak overcame, or Mubarak was able to offer things to the military leadership in exchange for their continued support. But we probably won’t know the real inside story for some time.
What are the chances that Mubarak will remain in office until September?
Mubarak just doubled down on staying as head of state until the end of his term. The protesters and Mubarak are now on a very clear, potentially violent collision course. Mubarak’s chances of remaining in power are mixed — and could be high depending on the willingness of the army to engage in serious confrontations against protesters. Ultimately though, if the public refuses to yield ground and numbers swell even larger in Tahrir Square, the military may finally decide that its own survival depends on dumping Mubarak — leading to a coup. Things are very murky at the moment — and fluid.
What challenges does this latest development hold for the Obama administration; what does the White House do now?
The White House can be expected to stick to its principles — insisting on no violence, demanding that the people’s basic human rights of assembly and protest be respected, and calling for meaningful, immediate political transition. If Mubarak proceeds to violate these principles, the White House could be expected to ratchet up the stridency of its demands and help generate international disdain and concern for Mubarak. If there is a serious crackdown, Obama could then assert that Mubarak has violated the terms of his social contract with the nation and depart. But the White House must be humble and continue to articulate, as it has, that the results in Egypt are determined by the Egyptian people, not by the White House.
What role is the Egyptian military likely to play now?
The military still remains a key player in the future of Egypt’s political system. For the most part, it has straddled the incumbent regime and the protesters, keeping itself in a position to support a power equation that included many different options. If the military cracks down on the protesters, the institution’s relationship with the public may be seriously undermined — leading to a potential civil war and serious violence. Right now, the military remains a key institution to watch, but its course and the decisions it is making about its place in a future Egyptian political order were put into doubt with Mubarak’s decision not to leave the scene.
Steve Clemons is founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He is part of a group of foreign policy experts that the White House has consulted with concerning the situation in Egypt.