Analysis: Obama telling Mubarak: Time to go
Sunday, February 6, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak should do the statesmanlike thing and make a quick handoff to a more representative government.
Translation: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Obama said a new era must begin now, an unvarnished message to Mubarak that he should not cling to power until elections in September.
“The key question he should be asking himself is, ’How do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period?’” Obama said Friday.
Obama, in office for two years, gave the 82-year-old Egyptian president some words of advice after 30 years of iron rule. The game’s up, Obama said, using language only slightly less direct. It’s time to leave.
“He is proud, but he is also a patriot,” Obama said after a White House meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“What I’ve suggested to him is that he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government,” Obama said. “He needs to listen to what is being voiced by the Egyptian people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly but that is meaningful and serious.”
Obama’s attempt to give his most important Arab ally a firm shove off the world stage marked a full turn from Obama’s cautious appeals for calm and restraint one week ago.
The United States has relied on Mubarak for decades and shored up his authoritarian regime with billions in military aid. He was considered, with the Saudi king, the most influential friend Washington could have in a volatile part of the world and rewarded with military and other aid worth more than $1 billion annually.
The U.S. would have preferred not to see Mubarak thrown over the side immediately. The realization became clear this week that the crisis could end no other way, and U.S. officials began to talk about “transition” to a post-Mubarak era.
“”We have to send a consistent message supporting the orderly transition that has begun,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told government officials, politicians, security experts and policy analysts at an international security conference Saturday in Munich.
The U.S. threw its weight behind nascent reforms led by Egypt’s new vice president as Clinton said that international support was crucial to prevent extremists from hijacking that political transition.
At the White House, Obama never said Mubarak should quit right away. He clearly hopes he won’t have to.
Mubarak’s main concession to the demonstrators calling for his head is a promise not to run again in elections set for September.
That wasn’t good enough for demonstrators, and Obama knew it.
“He has already said that he is not going to run for re-election,” Obama said, with a pause for effect. His tone was one part law professor, one part therapist.
“Having made that psychological break, that decision that he will not be running again, I think the most important (thing) for him to ask himself, for the Egyptian government to ask itself, as well as the opposition to ask itself is, How do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate?”
That might be as blunt as a baseball bat to American ears, but there’s no guarantee Mubarak and his inner circle will hear it the same way.
Obama did not directly discuss the furious maneuvering to ease Mubarak out. Under one scenario, a military-backed provisional government would govern until the first elections in decades that would not include Mubarak. The United States has hinted broadly that it would like to see the presidential election moved up from September.
Any of that would have been unthinkable before a stunning popular revolt upended the status quo this week in a polite, tourist-friendly police state where Mubarak’s cronies got richer as much of the country got poorer.
Obama alluded to the backroom discussions while being careful to say that the decision will be Egypt’s and not its largest foreign patron and longtime ally.
“Going back to the old ways is not going to work,” Obama said.
“If you end up having just gestures toward the opposition but it leads to a continuing suppression of the opposition, that is not going to work. If you have the pretense of reform but not real reform that is not going to be effective.”
That leaves Obama a little room to bring down the hammer later, if he must.
Obama has spoken to Mubarak twice as the crisis unfolded. He will probably speak to him at least once more, to say goodbye.
Here’s how he left it for now:
“My hope is he will end up making the right decision.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Anne Gearan covers U.S. national security policy for The Associated Press. AP writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.