Published February 02, 2011
Obama Has Hope, But Little Direction for Change in Egypt
“Can we walk safely down the street? Can we go back to work regularly? Can we go out into the streets with our children to schools and universities? Can we open our stores, factories and clubs? You are the ones able to restore normal life.”
-- A spokesman for the Egyptian military calling on protesters to leave the streets
As concerns grow about the Islamist leanings of the opposition in Egypt, the nation’s military – the central institution in Egyptian society – told protesters that the time has come to leave the streets.
Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised Tuesday night that he would not seek another term in September, but also said that he would serve out the remainder of his current one. He also sought to lay to rest the idea that he would flee the country saying he would “die on Egyptian soil.”
President Obama took to the airwaves in response, seeming to offer a critique of Mubarak’s statement, telling viewers around the world that while he appreciated Mubarak’s patriotism and willingness to begin a transition, the process “must begin now.”
The meaning of that phrase is up for debate. Mubarak would argue that the process has begun with his declaration that he would not run and the appointment of a new cabinet and vice president, but Obama seemed to be saying that Mubarak’s pace was insufficient.
The White House, taken by surprise by the turmoil in Egypt, seemed to be embracing ambiguity as officials continued to reach out to opposition groups in an effort to form a coalition government to replace Mubarak.
Soon after Obama praised Egypt’s powerful army for their tolerance and protection of the protestors, who jammed the streets and shut down the country for the fifth day on Tuesday, the military showed growing discomfort with the idea of a rapid overthrow.
Concerns in and out of Egypt are mounting over opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei, the U.N. official who defended Iran’s nuclear program against U.S. efforts to destroy it.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is scheduled for a private meeting with Obama today, has been sounding the alarm in America about ElBaradei’s connections to the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood.
"First of all, ElBaradei is not a friend of the United States. Second of all, he could be a figurehead for the Muslim Brotherhood since he has no real following in Egypt. He's lived most of his life outside of Egypt,” McCain said Tuesday on “Hannity.”
In Egypt, the military, which has controlled presidential succession since at least 1952, began emphasizing the need for order in the transition for a return to normalcy from protests that have been mostly peaceful but badly disruptive. The message – You’ve had your fun, now get back to business.
ElBaradei, popular in world diplomatic circles for his past defiance of the U.S., blew off Mubarak’s seven-month transition plan and called for an immediate transfer of power to an interim government so that a new constitution could be drafted.
That is not what the army is looking for. Now, with Mubarak defiant, his supporters staging counter demonstrations and protestors growing angry at a lack of progress, the military, one-million strong, is flexing its muscle.
Forced to choose between preventing instability that could lead to Islamist rule and Mubarak, the army will likely choose Mubarak. And while the military has promised not to impede any peaceful demonstrations, clashes could soon erupt as radicals continue sporadic rioting in Cairo and Alexandria. For the thousands of Westerners now desperate to leave the country, these are anxious times.
If the situation devolves further, the army could oust Mubarak and replace him with an interim leader of their choosing until elections can be held, if elections are held.
So far, Obama hasn’t called for anything in Egypt other than a best-case outcome of free elections that reaffirm human dignity, all on a non-specific timeline. But, like the Egyptian army, Obama may soon be forced to make a choice among bad options in an effort to preserve stability or not choosing and potentially losing a key ally in the world’s most dangerous region.
More U.S. Allies Targeted for Overthrow
"I will not seek to extend my presidency for another term or have my son inherit it."
-- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an American ally during his 32-year reign, promising to leave power in 2013
First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Yemen, Algeria and Jordan. A viral protest movement, nurtured by American-made social media and digital technology, continues to target the regimes of Western allies in the Middle East.
Tunisia is already under new management, Egypt is on the edge of a knife, Jordan, one of the best friends to America in the region, is reshuffling its government in an effort to placate protestors. Now, most troubling of all, Yemen has been gripped by anti-government protests.
There is much not to like about Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose dynastic aspirations for his son to succeed him, deepened an ongoing civil war in the impoverished chaotic nation at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Saleh’s control is mostly limited to the region around the capital of Sanaa. That’s allowed al Qaeda to set up shop in the lawless areas, drawing recruits from the local population, nearby Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
With Saleh’s support, the U.S. has been fighting a secret war in Yemen, largely through the use of unmanned aerial drones, but has not been able to stamp out the radical groups operating there.
Holding a free election in Yemen would be like trying to paint a Faberge egg in the middle of a monster truck rally – dirty, dangerous and unlikely to succeed.
Protestors seemed unmoved by Saleh’s pledge to rule for only two more years and began taking to the streets in protest anyway.
The preppy, pro-western King Abdullah II of Jordan has sacked his government and promised to institute reforms aimed at easing economic hardships and encouraging democracy. There, too, opposition leaders are unsatisfied.
In Algeria, a former French colony that is undergoing rapid modernization following the discovery of more extensive oil reserves, a third protestor has burned himself to death in protest of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government.
Syria is no ally of the U.S. and has been making nice with Iran since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But Syria’s government is part of the same secular, pan-Arab movement that gave birth to Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. President Bashar al-Assad has also undertaken modest pro-market reforms in an effort to improve the country’s miserable economy.
Protestors are targeting English-educated Assad for a “day of rage,” despite promises of additional reforms from the president, who has been making increased overtures to the West, sitting down this week for an interview with the Wall Street Journal to tout his reform agenda.
The question that is currently hanging over the region and the rest of the world is how much of the movement is the work of Islamists? If groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are able to use popular discontent with pro-Western regimes in the region to bring about theocratic rule in key countries, American interests could be irreparably harmed.
While leaders are trying to prevent overthrow by offering concessions to impoverished, frustrated citizens, the riots may be a contagious disease that can’t be stopped. Certainly all eyes, and al Jazeera’s cameras, will be on Egypt as the largest uprising so far plays out.
For now, it seems quite possible that theocracy rather than Western-style reform could be the result in much of the region.
Obamacare Repeal Vote in Senate Today
"We have an opportunity today... It's an opportunity to reevaluate your vote. You can say, 'perhaps this was a mistake, we can do this better.' Or you can continue to dismiss the majority of the people in this country as not knowing what they're talking about."
-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the Senate floor offering a proposal to repeal President Obama’s national health care law
Today’s vote on whether to repeal President Obama’s national health care law is unlikely to draw much Democratic support, perhaps not even Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, an outspoken critic of the law since he got badly burned by a public outcry over a deal he cut with Majority leader Harry Reid to support the law in exchange for federal funds for his home state.
But the vote matters a great deal for two reasons. It forces moderate Democrats like Missouri’s Claire McCaskill to reiterate their support for the law despite public expressions of concern about some of its key provisions. For West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a first-year freshman facing reelection next year, it will force him to clarify his position on the bill, on which he initially supported, then opposed as a candidate and now says he wants to improve.
The vote against repeal will be politically unhelpful for vulnerable Dems.
But those political considerations have policy consequences. Manchin, McCaskill, Nelson and others have spoken of problems with the central part of Obama’s law – a provision that requires all Americans to purchase private health insurance or be enrolled in an approved government health program. The so-called “individual mandate” has been struck down as unconstitutional by two federal judges and may ultimately be invalidated by the Supreme Court.
Having to vote to protect Obama’s law will spur swing-state and red-state Democrats to get on board with plans to repeal the individual mandate or at least allow states to opt out. Even the opt out provision could essentially undo the law, since 27 states are already suing to block its imposition. Obama’s law could not hold up with more than half of the country not participating. Quite simply, costs would be too high to participants.
Even so, some Democrats are now openly talking about their interest in repealing the provision. The repeal vote today will increase the pressure on those Democrats to take action on legislation that would essentially gut the law.
Congress Moving to Roll Back Obama’s Carbon Crackdown
"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce (greenhouse gas) pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans."
-- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement reaffirming the agency’s pursuit of new limits on carbon emissions
President Obama is meeting today with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to talk about advancing the president’s proposed green energy initiatives in the Senate.
But Obama’s calls for new regulations of carbon emissions and new spending on environmentally friendly initiatives are unlikely to find a warm welcome, even among the president’s own party.
As Democrats embrace new spending austerity measures –- a balanced budget amendment, an earmark ban and a 10-year round of reductions among them –- and energy prices continue to rise amid Middle East turmoil, increased demand and Obama’s regulatory restrictions at home, there is not much interest on Capitol Hill for the president’s brand of Ecomagination.
There does seem to be, however, considerable interest in a bipartisan plan to strip the EPA of the power to regulate carbon dioxide, the fourth-most common component of the air we breathe, as a hazard to human health because the agency says it is causing the planet to get warmer.
The EPA is defying the congressional outcry and proceeding with its global warming plan, which Administrator Lisa Jackson hopes to have fully in place by 2012. The administration’s strategy all along has been to warn Congress that if they didn’t act to address the president’s calls on global warming, the EPA would act in a much more disruptive fashion.
There’s a “hostage taker” analogy in there somewhere, but Power Play can’t bring itself to make it.
But Congress may be getting ready to push back hard. Support is growing for a bill that would bar the EPA from addressing carbon dioxide emissions unless directed by lawmakers. The defiance of the EPA is certainly helping the Republicans gather votes from moderate Democrats from carbon states.
Of course, Obama could defend his executive authority with a veto, but on an issue so crucial to heartland lawmakers, an override isn’t out of the question. What’s more, the fight with many members of his own party in defense of an aggressive, economically disruptive plan on global warming is not the discussion Obama is looking to have while trying to show a new interest in economic recovery.
And Now, A Word from Charles
“The bigger ambiguity is when will he go. Is he going tonight, tomorrow or next week? Are we going to push him out? The demonstrators on the street won't leave until he's out of the country. That's why I think nothing is resolved.”