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Christiane Amanpour Interviews Mubarak; He Says He Wants to Leave But Cannot

First of all, great work by Christiane Amanpour to get this interview. We don’t have the transcript or video yet and can only go by her recollection of events, but a few things jump out at me:

• Mubarak blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for yesterday’s violence. That’s an answer designed for a Western audience, particularly those conservatives who have been riled up by the potential for the MB to have a role in post-Mubarak Egypt. It’s also an absurd statement, considering that the dead from Tahrir Square are members of the protest movement.

• Mubarak “would like to leave office now, but cannot, he says, for fear that the country would sink into chaos,” according to Amanpour. She also added this quote in reference to President Obama:

While he described President Obama as a very good man, he wavered when I asked him if hour felt the U.S. had betrayed him. When I asked him how he responded to the United States’ veiled calls for him to step aside sooner rather than later, he said he told President Obama “you don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.”

That certainly suggests that Obama did tell Mubarak to step aside, a day before the violent attacks from pro-government thugs. Those saying that Obama has been mute this whole time need to incorporate that fact into their analysis. He’s played a behind-the-scenes game, but it has been a generally aggressive one. The crossroads for the President comes now, as Mubarak has not only defied his call to step down, but his call to put an end to the violence. What happens from here is quite important. But until yesterday, the President had basically sought the same solution as the demands from the streets.

• Mubarak’s son Gamal, thought to possibly be abroad at this point, was with them in the Presidential palace. Mubarak said he never wanted Gamal, a civilian, to follow him into office.

• Mubarak is defiant that he will die on Egyptian soil and that he cares about his country. But he is clearly living in a dreamworld if he thinks the country is at risk of instability if he doesn’t leave. What kind of stable condition does he see the country in now? It’s not surprising that a man who’s ruled as a dictator for 30 years seems to think he’s indispensable to his country. But his thoughts don’t reflect reality. And protesters have set a deadline of tomorrow for him to relinquish power, so this could come to a head soon.

The goal for US policymakers should now be to use the means at their disposal – whether the ability to pressure US banking interests to freeze Mubarak’s assets, or the ability to cut off future aid to the country – to force the desired solution. As I understand our political system, the decision on aid is ultimately up to Congress, who has the power of the purse. Reportedly, there’s a draft resolution circulation that would ask Mubarak to “transfer power to temporary coalition government.” Aid could be conditioned on that. They wouldn’t even have to go back and open up the budget; the continuing resolution ends March 4, it could be a line item in the next CR.

UPDATE: Here’s that resolution, which comes from John Kerry and John McCain. The “concern” about the Muslim Brotherhood is gratuitous. But generally, it’s an OK and toothless resolution. They can condition continued aid to this outcome.

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David Dayen

David Dayen