With Egypt, Obama Sitting on the Fence
“It is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders—only the Egyptian people can do that,” said President Obama on February 1st.
But anyone who pays attention to the news knows that the entire world is talking about Cairo these days.
Political unrest has intensified since the people of Egypt began their demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule, making it increasingly clear that the Egyptian government must undergo some serious changes before the violence can come to a halt. Despite Obama’s message that Egyptians should decide their own future, he has become involved in the process of repairing the country’s leadership.
It began with a simple message: don’t harm the protesters. If violence is used to quell the demonstrations, Obama warned, the US would put a stop to the billions of dollars of aid that it currently gives to Egypt. As the protests strengthened, words like “transition” and “democracy” began floating around the Obama administration. But when President Mubarak announced that he would not run for re-election later this year—indicating that he would continue to rule until elections are held—Obama amped up his message to the Egyptian president.
“An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now,” he said.
Emphasis on the “now.” While Obama doesn’t want Egypt, one of the more developed countries in Africa, to devolve into utter anarchical chaos, it is clear that he wants President Mubarak’s presidency to come to an end, and soon. Still, Obama’s words were cautious. As the New York Times puts it, if Obama “pushed Mr. Mubarak, he did not shove him.”
He might need to, as Mubarak is proving himself to be very strong-willed for an 82 year-old. Appearing on national television after three days of protests, he promised to replace the ministers in his government— an attempt to subdue the protestors and retain his power. It didn’t work. He then made the announcement that he would not run for re-election. But that’s not enough for Egyptians, and it’s not enough for Obama.
The revolutionary fervor has put the US government in an awkward position, though. A number of news articles describe Obama as “charting a delicate course” or “walking a very fine line,” as other countries in the region may be undermined by his support of the Egyptian protesters. Obama doesn’t want to be too involved—but he may have to be if he wants his words to resonate. His administration’s ultra-cautious response—an attempt to please both regional allies and the protesters—is not enough. The anti-Mubarak group is clearly determined, but so is Mubarak. For the violence and chaos to end soon, Obama needs to use his influence and take a more vocal stance.
If Mubarak won’t step down, someone may have to shove him.