In the latest concession to the protesters in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has resigned as the head of the country’s ruling party, the NDP. He will remain on as President until the end of his term, however. The party’s secretary-general Safwat el-Sharif, and Gamal Mubarak, Hosni’s son, also quit the NDP.

This is a trifling concession and will certainly not mollify the protesters. But I think an endgame has been decided upon in the corridors of power. Because how else to explain Hillary Clinton stepping out at a security conference in Munich and endorsing a transition led by Omar Suleiman, the current Vice President?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to a conference here, said it was important to support Mr. Suleiman as he seeks to defuse street protests and promises to reach out to opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Administration officials said earlier that Mr. Suleiman and other military-backed leaders in Egypt are also considering ways to provide President Hosni Mubarak with a graceful exit from power.

“That takes some time,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.” […]

Now, the United States and other Western powers appear to have concluded that the best path for Egypt — and certainly the safest one, to avoid further chaos — is a gradual transition, managed by Mr. Suleiman, a pillar of Egypt’s existing establishment, and backed by the military.

The resignation of Mubarak from the party is just a small step on this path. Eventually he would cede all powers of the presidency over to Suleiman and rule as a figurehead until elections are held. If you believe those elections will be free and fair, you’re quite the optimist.

So you see a coming together of messages from the US and Egyptian governments, with the view that Mubarak is sidelined, but also that his immediate departure would cause chaos, and the establishment led by Suleiman must gradually transition away from this episode. This transition will include constitutional “reforms” and elections later this year. As Marcy mentioned, Clinton is already using a gas pipeline explosion in the Sinai Peninsula and reports of an assassination attempt on Suleiman to prove the need for “stability” with a gradual transition. You had Lindsey Graham at this security conference saying there is no alternative to a Suleiman and military-backed transitional government prior to elections. And the Germans, Brits and even the Turks backed the approach.

Tell that to the people in the street. They have been terrorized by secret police and pro-Mubarak gangs for the better part of two weeks, under the direction of the government, which includes Suleiman. The Mukhabarat, or secret police, did this to American citizens and are doing far worse to Egyptians.

WE had been detained by Egyptian authorities, handed over to the country’s dreaded Mukhabarat, the secret police, and interrogated. They left us all night in a cold room, on hard orange plastic stools, under fluorescent lights.

But our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night. In one instance, between the cries of suffering, an officer said in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”

A voice, also in Arabic, answered: “You are committing a sin. You are committing a sin.” […]

We saw more than 20 people, Westerners and Egyptians, blindfolded and handcuffed. The room had been empty when we arrived the evening before.

“We could be treating you a lot worse,” he said in a flat tone, the facts speaking for themselves. Marwan said Egyptians were being held in the thousands. During the night we heard them being beaten, screaming after every blow.

The cunning plan from the West is to put the man in charge of the Egyptian torture program, essentially at the heart of this treatment of journalists and street activists, in charge of the country for a while? Setting aside the moral implications of that, there is no way it will be accepted by the protesters. Deliberate steps toward democracy is one thing, and you can reasonably argue that position; democracy does not equal elections, and civil society and political parties in the country unquestionably need time to grow and take root. The fact that the US wants to include the Muslim Brotherhood in this process is a very good sign along those lines.

But putting the torturer-in-chief in charge because it would essentially keep the Egypt-Israel relationship stable is a whole other matter. And it will not meet with the consent of the governed. If stability is sought, it seems like the exact wrong thing to do.

UPDATE: The Arabist calls it a slow motion coup for Suleiman and the generals, just the replacement of one set of elites with another.

David Dayen

David Dayen