So does Mubarak stay or go?
So does Mubarak stay or go?
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said that the transition to democracy in Egypt must begin immediately, but they have been careful not to say whether that requires the rapid departure from office of President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators are demanding that he leave. Mubarak has said he won't run for reelection in September but won't step down before then.
Frank Wisner, the veteran diplomat whom Obama sent as personal emissary to Mubarak, provided his own view Saturday. Speaking by video link to a security conference here, Wisner said that Mubarak should "lead Egypt through a transition." The Egyptian constitution requires the president to be in place if the constitution is to be changed, as necessary, to permit fairer elections, Wisner said. "President Mubarak's role remains utterly critical in the days ahead.... It's his opportunity to shape his legacy."
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and a panelist at the conference, disagreed. Under the constitution, he said, Mubarak could delegate his authority to someone else to oversee the constitutional changes. "I don't accept at all that you need Mubarak to do this," he said.
Roth warned that the regime has yet to accept the necessity of real change. If the ruling party can get away with "a controlled transition" and cosmetic changes, it will, he said. Its recent arrests of human rights activists are an indicator of the indecision; in the event of a crackdown, there will be fewer observers to report to the world. He called for "ongoing pressure" on the regime and the positioning of international monitors in Tahrir Square to deter further violence.
Wisner and Roth didn't disagree on the desirable final outcome: genuine, fair elections, in a legal environment permitting free assembly and expression. The danger of Roth's approach, Wisner said in response, is that it would provoke more resistance from within the regime. The best way to promote change in the regime, Wisner said, is "to work with it and inside it."
On the other hand, the danger of endorsing Mubarak as overseer of the transition is that it puts the United States on the opposite side of the thousands of demonstrators who have brought Egypt to this point through their determined and peaceful rallies. They won't believe that, after 30 years of rigging elections, Mubarak is ready to change -- and they may well be correct.
After the meeting, Sen. John McCain added his own view. "Mubarak can't stay because he's the symbol of 30 years of repression," he said.
| February 5, 2011; 2:56 PM ET
Categories: Hiatt | Tags: Fred Hiatt
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