Mubarak one step closer to out

In a few minutes, according to Al Arabiya, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will speak and offer a "solution" to his country’s unrest — perhaps by agreeing not to run in this September’s upcoming presidential election. Such an announcement would be an epic moment for the Middle East, and for Mubarak, who once said he would ...

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

In a few minutes, according to Al Arabiya, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will speak and offer a "solution" to his country's unrest -- perhaps by agreeing not to run in this September's upcoming presidential election. Such an announcement would be an epic moment for the Middle East, and for Mubarak, who once said he would serve as Egypt's president "until my last breath."

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that U.S. President Barack Obama -- through retired diplomat Frank Wisner -- has told Mubarak he shouldn't run again:

Mr. Wisner’s message, [American diplomats in Cairo and Washington] said, was not a blunt demand for Mr. Mubarak to step aside now, but firm counsel that he should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader. [...]

In a few minutes, according to Al Arabiya, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will speak and offer a "solution" to his country’s unrest — perhaps by agreeing not to run in this September’s upcoming presidential election. Such an announcement would be an epic moment for the Middle East, and for Mubarak, who once said he would serve as Egypt’s president "until my last breath."

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that U.S. President Barack Obama — through retired diplomat Frank Wisner — has told Mubarak he shouldn’t run again:

Mr. Wisner’s message, [American diplomats in Cairo and Washington] said, was not a blunt demand for Mr. Mubarak to step aside now, but firm counsel that he should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader. […]

His mission was to “keep a conversation going,” according to a close friend of Mr. Wisner’s.

As a result, this person said, the administration’s first message to the Egyptian leader was not that he had to leave office, but rather that his time in office was quickly coming to a close. Mr. Wisner, who consulted closely with the White House, is expected to be the point person to deal with Mr. Mubarak as the situation evolves, and perhaps as the administration’s message hardens.

More to come soon, but my strong hunch is that the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square will be satisfied by nothing less than Mubarak’s ouster. The Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl relayed via Twitter that Mubarak actually refused Wisner’s counsel, and the LA Times quotes a source saying that Wisner’s message was "plainly rebuffed."

If it’s indeed true that Mubarak is announcing that he won’t seek a 6th term — and nobody other than Al Arabiya is reporting that right now [UPDATE: Now Egyptian state TV says it will be a statement, not a speech] — it’s more than a little awkward that U.S. officials have already leaked his decision to the New York Times. Not that I have much sympathy for the old tyrant, but I don’t think the Obama team wants to be seen dictating the course of events.

That said, if Mubarak does indeed announce his retirement tonight, you can expect some fingerpointing at Obama for "losing" a key U.S. ally, thanklessly "throwing him under the bus," and so on.

I wonder if the people making that argument will have the courage to spell out what itimplies: They would have preferred to see the Egyptian police and military kill and injure more peaceful demonstrators on the streets of a major Arab capital, on international satellite television, using U.S.-made weapons.

Because let’s be honest: that’s what it would have taken for Mubarak to remain in power. His military was refusing to enforce a curfew or fire on protesters; his police had mysteriously fled after brutally attacking them. The morality of this position aside, can you imagine the kind of blowback the United States would face in the Arab world, let alone everywhere else?

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