Getting Hosni Mubarak to quit Egypt is like trying to put a cat in a bathtub. Nevertheless, the White House, The New York Times' Helene Cooper and Mark Landler report, is working with Egyptian officials on a plan that would see Mubarak stepping down immediately and newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman taking over, supported by the country's military. Mubarak still refuses to agree to such a plan--he wants to leave in September--but the talks are continuing anyway.
A transitional government would work with many opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, on election reform ahead of this fall's vote. Suleiman would serve merely as a transitional figure. But Obama administration officials say as of now, there are no signs Suleiman or the rest of the military will withdraw their support from Mubarak. The U.S. has warned Egypt that if the president is replaced with another strongman without a plan for democratic elections, Congress could freeze military aid, upon which Egypt is very dependent. Meanwhile, protesters have dubbed Friday Mubarak's "day of departure" and will march on the presidential palace.
How could this play out? And why is the U.S. intervening now, after some serious foot-dragging (for legitimate reasons) earlier? Here's what you need to know about the pros and cons of the current U.S. strategy, as well as a few reasons why it's being pushed.
- The Problem With Suleiman Taking Over, Foreign Policy's Nathan Brown notes, is Egypt's constitution. Experts are worried because if Mubarak steps down, legally, the guy who takes over is not Suleiman, but the speaker of parliament. That guy, Fathi Surur, "is widely regarded as a figure whose job has been to manage the parliament for the regime," Brown writes. And if Surur didn't take over, the chief justice of the constitutional court would. He's not any better. And, the new president would have to required to hold elections within 60 days, not enough time to fix the constitution to make it easier for opposition candidates to run. To install Suleiman would essentially mean casting aside Egypt's constitution--it would mean regime change.
- A Way to Get Around the Constitutional Problem: Deputize Suleiman Brown updates. There's one other option. A group of former officials and intellectuals proposed another solution in an Egyptian newspaper: Mubarak could deputize Suleiman as president. "This is constitutionally possible—if the president is unable to serve (in this case presumably because of political ill health) he can hand power over temporarily (in this case until the fall when his term is over) to the vice president. By stopping short of a final resignation, the need for immediate elections is removed and there is enough time to amend the constitution. ... [But] It works only if Mubarak cooperates and those currently running the country make their peace with a real transition."
- Another Way: Keep Mubarak for Two Months Tarek Masoud writes for The New York Times that "the constitutionally sanctioned timeline would be this: Mr. Mubarak dissolves Parliament, forcing a new election within 60 days... Once the new Parliament is seated, Mr. Mubarak resigns, and an acting president, probably the new Parliament’s speaker, takes charge until a new president is elected. The new Parliament would work around the clock to amend the Constitution in ways that would put Mr. Suleiman or any would-be strongman out of a job. The final step is a national referendum on the amendments."
- This Is Exactly the Kind of Stuff Leading Egyptians to Support Mubarak The Arabist's Issandr El Amrani explains: "A lot of people inside and outside Egypt must be wondering: why are these senior officials backing Hosni Mubarak to the hilt? Some of it may be personal loyalty, for sure. But for this generation and caste of army officers, there are bigger issues at stake too..." They likely fear constitutional chaos, a transitional president would be undermined by legal attacks, fear of giving in to protesters, and resistance to foreign meddling. "[I]f the NYT story is true... then a formula will be found for Mubarak to step down. But Suleiman will be asking for a lot of guarantees to support him in exchange."
- Why Pressure Is Building for Mubarak to Leave Mubarak sealed his fate, Al Bab's Brian Whitaker argues, "first by setting his thugs on demonstrators and journalists, and then... [by saying] the only thing holding him back from resigning was the chaos that he believed would ensue. This invited the obvious riposte that the country is already in chaos as a result of his refusal to go. There has been some irritation expressed on Twitter about the amount of prominence given to attacks on foreign journalists compared with those on ordinary Egyptians. It's a fair point, but the reporting... has clearly helped to shift the discourse among western governments towards calling for Mubarak's immediate departure rather than waiting until the next presidential election."
- Now Obama Will Own Egypt, The Guardian's Michel Tomasky argues. "The preference would have been that Mubarak leave without this push, because it would have been cleaner if US didn't have to be involved here this directly." But better to get involved than to risk a violent crush of the protests. "Assuming Mubarak does take the hint now, for better or worse now, Obama will 'own' Egypt. ... If eight months from now, after the elections, there's a democratic regime and a new openness in the country, then that's great. Obama is a world hero. And if the democratic fever spreads, then he and his aforementioned team are some of the greatest Americans of all time. But what if...I'm far from sanguine about the Muslim Brotherhood."