What Exactly Does the U.S. Want From Egypt?

Initially, the White House stressed that Mubarak must leave immediately, but they soon realized Egypt is not Tunisia.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

What exactly does the United States want from Egypt? Does it have a "day after" policy? Is it sure that the next government will be pro-American, given that the young people demonstrating in Tahrir Square are the same ones who demonstrated against the war in Iraq, against Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, for the Turkish aid flotilla, against globalization - that is, Americanization - and yes, also against President Hosni Mubarak.

President Barack Obama speaks about Egypt at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 4, 2011.Credit: AP

What one can learn from the remarks of U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is mainly confusion and surprise at the extent of the protests and the regime's response.

Initially, the White House stressed that Mubarak must leave immediately - apparently to avoid a repeat of its overly chilly response to the Tunisia protests. But Egypt, they soon realized, is not Tunisia. Its president may be bad for the public but the regime is built on checks and balances, systems and institutions, and above all a constitution that is important to the people.

In Egypt the president does not leave, he negotiates with the opposition and slowly prepares the ground for his successors. Stepping down "immediately" would mean chaos. Eventually Clinton realized this. On Sunday she conceded that Egypt's constitution required new elections within 60 days after Mubarak stepped down - not enough time to organize a fair vote.

Washington wants Egypt to achieve democracy, but in an organized manner. Above all, it wants to insure that Cairo will continue to be an ally. But it's impossible to want democracy and also oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, to want Mubarak's swift departure and also insure that the next presidential candidate won't be from the left.

"There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well," Obama told the U.S. network Fox News on Sunday. "So it's important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed people."

The stress was on "our" - America's options, not Egypt's.

But the demonstrations weren't for him. He would do well to look at the foundation statement of the Kifaya ("enough" ) movement, which was behind the 2004 revolt against inherited succession in Egypt. This mainly secular, educated organization championed all-out confrontation against "the Zionist-American projects." This was not the Muslim Brotherhood.

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