Monday, January 31, 2011

End of the road for Hosni Mubarak?

Mr. Mubarak, it appears that the time has come...
All eyes are on Egypt.

The people have taken to the streets, demanding governmental reform and the abdication of power by President Hosni Mubarak, who has been at the top of the Egyptian power structure for nigh on 30 years.

It is hard to imagine how Mubarak can survive the upheaval, politically.  The demonstrators who are paralyzing the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez have only one clear demand:  Mubarak must go.

I remember well when I first learned Mubarak's name.  It was back in 1981, in the period following the historic Camp David Accords, brokered by President Carter, between Egypt and Israel.  Egypt's president at the time, Anwar el-Sadat, was a hero to many Americans for being the first leader of an Arab nation to make peace with Israel.  But Sadat's popularity in the United States meant nothing to extremists in his own country. To them, he was a quisling who betrayed the Palestinians.

Radical members of the Egyptian military conducted a bold assassination of Sadat during a military parade, firing into the presidential viewing stands.  In the confusion that followed, Hosni Mubarak emerged as a leader.  He was wounded in the gun play around the assassination, but managed to escape.  He was later sighted giving orders to military personnel, taking charge of the government.

Again, that was in 1981.  But watching the news this weekend, I heard an astonishing fact.  The median age of the population of Egypt, all ~80 million of them, is 24 years.  They are a nation of young people, most of whom have never known any leader other than Hosni Mubarak.  They have no recollection, nor perhaps appreciation of the contrast between today's Egypt and the bitterly anti-Western Egypt that sought to destroy Israel and played footsie with the Soviet Union in the Cold War chess match.

I'm not defending Mubarak.  This is an Egyptian matter.  Egyptians need to sort it out for themselves. Mubarak's record on human rights is appalling and his government is thoroughly corrupt.

I believe the United States is best served by playing it exactly as President Obama is doing:  expressing support for the people, warning against violence, offering assistance when possible.  Remember, Egypt is the recipient of $1.15 billion per year in foreign aid, so Egyptians have a very big interest in maintaining good relations with the United States.

It seems clear that Mubarak's time is up.  All that is left to him is to determine whether his story ends with relative calm or in an eruption of violence and bloodshed.

No comments: