The masses are gathering in Tahrir Square for the “Day of Departure,” with the goal of getting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave office. Al Jazeera has a live blog of events with some pictures.
According to the New York Times, the Obama Administration shares the goal of the protesters to get Mubarak out. But this was a strange story when it was rushed to release, with lots of spelling errors and misplaced sentence fragments last night, and it’s still a strange story now. Here are the key elements:
• The Administration wants Mubarak to go and a caretaker government put in place with Vice President Omar Suleiman in power. Top members of the military would join Suleiman in the government and they would “immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.” Opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, would be involved in that process. The White House made it pretty clear they want Suleiman to be the transitional figure.
• Mubarak hasn’t agreed to this.
• Suleiman hasn’t agreed to this.
• The Egyptian military hasn’t agreed to this.
• “‘What they’re asking cannot be done,’ one senior Egyptian official said, citing clauses in the Egyptian Constitution that bar the vice president from assuming power.” He added that the US should mind their own business.
• Mubarak doesn’t believe that leaving would satisfy the protesters.
• Mubarak would not meet with Frank Wisner, the former US Ambassador, a second time, because he was “angry at Mr. Obama’s toughly worded speech on Tuesday night.”
So to sum up, the US has a plan, nobody in the Egyptian leadership agrees with it, they doubt it would work, they doubt it’s even possible, and they won’t meet with US envoys anymore.
The one interesting element to it is this:
Officials familiar with the dialogue between the Obama administration and Cairo say that American officials have told their Egyptian counterparts that if they support another strongman to replace Mr. Mubarak — but without a specific plan and timetable for moving toward democratic elections — Congress might react by freezing military aid to Egypt.
Emphasis mine. This is the only way you’re going to get the Egyptians to agree to this scheme, through the power of the purse. It’s good to see the White House at least making this option available. And the fact that the Senate passed a resolution calling for a transition to a caretaker government last night adds a little oomph to this threat.
But other than that, the news here is that, while the White House doesn’t want a strongman in power, they do support elevating Omar Suleiman in a caretaker government. That could have worked for the protesters before he insulted the protesters yesterday in a long interview and basically toed the Mubarak regime line. Also, he’s the chief torturer in the country. Other than that, brilliant plan. Good thing he’s not a “strongman!”
…see also a good article in NYT on the protests, from Nick Kristof. He marvels at the determination of the protesters. Given the attacks on journalists, his determination is laudable as well.