Is the White House moving Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out the door?. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After a few hesitant days, which resulted in their being called out by Egyptian protesters and even the nascent leader of the revolution Mohammed ElBaradei, the United States government does look to be trying to slowly move Hosni Mubarak out the door and prepare for his successor. In the words of one former official privy to the thoughts of the White House, “They don’t want to push Mubarak over the cliff, but they understand that the Mubarak era is over and that the only way Mubarak could be saved now is by a ruthless suppression of the population, which would probably set the stage for a much more radical revolution down the road.”

This was not inevitable. Protesters, ElBaradei and a series of analysts called for this as the protests played out. But it became clear that Mubarak could not be saved, nor would saving him help the interests of the United States. And in the end, that drove the decision.

On the Sunday shows, Hillary Clinton called for “real democracy” and an orderly transition in Egypt. That cannot be tainted by American hands behind the scenes. The street activists are already wary of foreign involvement. One protester said, “Tell America that we get to choose our president. We choose him, not them.” According to this account, that’s what Obama is saying in private. Nonetheless, the appointment of Omar Suleiman, who ran the part of the US rendition program in Egypt during the Bush Administration, disquieted many who saw the attempt to move from one dictator friendly to US interests, to another.

But Suleiman does not seem to have the consent of the street. ElBaradei does, evidenced by the fact that he joined the protesters in Tahrir Square last night. Other opposition groups agreed that ElBaradei could negotiate on their behalf, and he has been stalwart in calling out lies about the Muslim Brotherhood. He appears to be the preferred consensus figure for a national unity government. And without meddling, that just might come to pass.

Simply understanding that Mubarak has to go may not be enough for the Obama Administration. As one observer said to the LA Times, “They have to get in front of this and not behind it.”

David Dayen

David Dayen