US Sending Envoys to Egypt, “Sizing Up” ElBaradei for Post-Mubarak Role

Pres. Barack Obama talks on the phone with Hosni Mubarak in the Oval Office, Jan. 28, 2011 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

As Siun reports, today hundreds of thousands if not millions have massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the biggest demonstrations yet against the Mubarak regime. Disparate movements – not just the Muslim Brotherhood but student groups, intellectuals, online activists, and members of the political opposition – have converged to speak with one voice, united against Hosni Mubarak remaining in power.

The demonstrations will play themselves out. Let’s look at how the United States is reacting. Bloomberg claims that the Obama Administration is balancing support for the protests without an open repudiation of Mubarak, but that’s in public. Behind the scenes, the White House sent Frank Wisner, a former US Ambassador to Egypt, to the region to talk with Mubarak. Now, I don’t know a thing about Wisner other than the fact that he appeared on Al Jazeera English on Friday, the last day of large demonstrations, and was ripped to shreds by the anchor for prior US support of the repressive Mubarak regime, and how the US sides with some dictators over others purely out of self-interest. Wisner found it impossible to articulate a coherent strategy out of US foreign policy in that respect, and in fact it is impossible. But he seemed far more interested in protecting the regime from criticism, who we now learn are his confidants and friends. So I’m not too thrilled about Wisner being the face of America behind the scenes.

The LA Times printed this bit of news, that the US would accept a role for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak government.

The Obama administration said for the first time that it supports a role for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, in a reformed Egyptian government.

The organization must reject violence and recognize democratic goals if the U.S. is to be comfortable with it taking part in the government, the White House said. But by even setting conditions for the involvement of such nonsecular groups, the administration took a surprise step in the midst of the crisis that has enveloped Egypt for the last week.

The statement was an acknowledgment that any popularly accepted new government will probably include groups that are not considered friendly to U.S. interests, and was a signal that the White House is prepared for that probability after 30 years of reliable relations with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Monday’s statement was a “pretty clear sign that the U.S. isn’t going to advocate a narrow form of pluralism, but a broad one,” said Robert Malley, a Mideast peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. U.S. officials have previously pressed for broader participation in Egypt’s government.

That’s actually a key concession, and a sign that US policymakers are rethinking their relationship to the Muslim world. At the same time, there are reports that the US is “sizing up” Mohammed ElBaradei, who has at least become a unifying figure among the protesters and could negotiate a way out of the impasse. However, it’s not clear that ElBaradei would have the support of the public; right now the protests are entirely focused on driving Mubarak from power. There is nobody to negotiate with or size up. [cont’d.]

I submit that we should be more concerned with allowing Egypt a government representative of its people than taking the measure of potential leaders, to see if we can “work” with them. Otherwise, we will fall into the same trap of propping up unpopular leaders who don’t have the consent of their citizens. This inflames rather than depresses anger against the West. Neocons wanted to establish democracy by the barrel of a gun; that led to the deaths of millions in Iraq. Actual democracy, which sets up civil structures and responds to the popular will, would be much more preferable.

Meanwhile, I hear that Jordan’s Kind Abdullah sacked his parliament in response to street protests. Everyone has been so focused on Egypt, it wasn’t clear to me that the contagion has already spread.

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