WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Robert Gibbs yesterday tried his best to say as little as possible regarding the US position on Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak. “We want change”; “There has to be increased participation”; “We are for democracy”. All this is nice; but it shows that America is still hedging and not leading on this issue of an unfolding revolution in Egypt that will be remembered as a historic watershed, as the event that started the transformation and the genuine modernization of the Middle East.
Washington is too slow
Of course, the White House does not want to be seen as encouraging the overthrow of legitimate governments. But the point made abundantly clear by the continuing, massive participation of Egyptians of all stripes in the demonstrations is that Mubarak’s government, if it had any legitimacy, lost it long ago. There is nothing to salvage there.
It would appear that the opportunity for face saving compromise, for some kind of agreeable, gentle exit for the old autocrat came and went. Had Mubarak announced his retirement at the very beginning of the street protests, may be he could have survived for a little bit longer. Instead he did the clever tyrant thing: he sacked his cabinet. “You see –he hinted– It is all their fault. And I got rid of them”. Well, that did not work.
Mubarak is the symbol
There are times in history in which symbolism is all. Mubarak “is the regime” –and people now will not accept anything less than his final exit. It is that simple. As for a path that may lead to a legitimate government, it would appear that the armed forces, given their remarkable restraint so far, may be the guarantors of law and order until a care taker government of national unity will be put together to hold elections for a new legislature/constitutional assembly, or whatever the Egyptians may want.
Regime change then and now
George W. Bush was criticized for advocating “regime change” in Iraq on the basis that Saddam Hussein represented a threat to America. The whole thing was a big mess, as we all recall. This time we should realize that “regime change” is demanded by the people of Egypt and get behind them. It is obvious that the thousands of demonstrators in Cairo are not part of a sinister plot, they are not the agents of Osama bin Laden.
This is the emerging Egyptian middle class: business people, lawyers, professors –mixed with everybody else, of course. As I said before, this is a rather messy affair. But it should be obvious to the White House that on balance this is a genuine popular uprising led by people who want what we say that everybody should have: legitimate, accountable government.
America has to lead
Can America be in front, for a change? Can America show leadership to the world? Can we show that we are really and forcefully behind a pro-democracy movement? Or do we want to remembered as those who hesitated and waited too long before recognizing the inevitable? The Middle East has lagged behind. But now it is coming of age.
In Egypt, civil society is demanding what others demanded and obtained in South Korea, Taiwan, Eastern Europe long ago. This revolution will have major ripple effects in the region and beyond. America used to be the “Leader of The Free World”. Time to show that we can lead again.