Hosni Mubarak is on his way out as President of Egypt. The protests have reached the critical tipping point: labor strikes are on schedule for Tuesday along with a million man march. The Egyptian military, which ultimately will decide the fate of the embattled president, has already shown an inability or unwillingness to control the streets. Soon its desire to preserve its reputation in post-Mubarak Egypt will force it to act against the President. For the Americans two questions remain: How will this unrest affect U.S. interests and what can be done policy-wise to manage the situation.
Before addressing these questions, it makes sense to debunk some of the myths that have pervaded the conversation up to this point, especially with regards to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Myth #1: The U.S. is in a position to dictate the future of Egypt.
This myth takes a variety of forms. Some argue that the U.S. has the ability to push Mubarak out of power. Undoubtedly, once he leaves, conspiracy theories involving nefarious U.S. involvement will proliferate. In reality, the U.S. has relatively few policy levers to influence events in Egypt which will be determined by protesters and the military. What can the U.S. do? We can issue public statements in support of the democrats or in defense of the current regime; we can withhold or continue to supply military aid—or use military aid as a bargaining chip; we can use our close relationship with the military to gather intelligence, and we can work with other countries in the region (Israel, perhaps?) to diffuse the international element of the crisis. The U.S. cannot dictate Egypt’s future; we cannot force Mubarak to leave. Continue reading