Even falling rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the massive throngs crowding into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Thursday to rejoice over news reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to step down, ending the 30-year reign of one of America’s strongest allies in the Middle East. But whether the fall of Mubarak becomes a
brilliant victory or devastating defeat for the United States all hinges on what happens next.
The ousting of an American ally of the importance and significance of Mubarak will have monumental consequences for U.S. allies around the region.
The first likely victim of Mubarak’s departure could well be the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. If the new government were to renounce the accord, it could have devastating consequences for Middle East peace.
Two high-level officials close to Mubarak told NBC News that Mubarak will announce that he will step down from the presidency. CIA Director Leon Panetta told a House Intelligence panel, “There’s a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down in Egypt tonight.”
Mubarak reportedly met at midday with Vice President Omar Suleiman and is expected to speak to his nation later.
Mubarak will transfer his authority to the Egyptian Higher Council of Armed Forces, which is a senior group of top military leaders, according to a Fox News report attributed to “a senior Egyptian official.”
If so, the transfer of power would occur outside the provisions of the Egyptian constitution, which states the Egyptian speaker of the house would become president, and elections would have to be held in the next 60 days.
Analysts warn that having elections so quickly would pose a major risk. The extremist Muslim Brotherhood, which is clearly the largest opposition party, would enjoy a major advantage because the short lead-up time to the elections would provide inadequate time for other political interests in Egypt to organize their campaigns.
Some members of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood organization, worried the Egyptian army may try to squeeze them out of any future role in the government, effectively is pulling off what amounts to a military coup.
That the Muslim Brotherhood already appears to be maneuvering for power shows that Mubarak’s fall may be a classic case of “be careful what you wish for.” After all, this is the organization that gave birth to many of the top terrorists who now wreak havoc around the globe.
It is clear President Barack Obama has been pushing to get rid of Mubarak. Obama found him to be an embarrassing ally, did not have a personal relationship with him, and felt he was expendable. Obama viewed the fate of Mubarak as a test of his influence around the Middle East.
The turning point for Mubarak came when Obama sent Frank G. Wisner, a former ambassador, to Cairo to convey the administration’s desire for Mubarak to depart.
Afterward, Wisner tried to make a case for Mubarak to stay and serve as a caretaker president until new elections could be organized and held in September. But the White House reacted by disowning Wisner. At that point, any support for Mubarak had obviously become radioactive, and Mubarak’s fate was sealed.
The Egyptian Army understands that its legitimacy derives from the people. So when the people so actively opposed Mubarak, the military had to make up its mind: Would they throw in their lot with the people, or would they side with one person, Mubarak? The military decided it was better to save the institution by siding with the people and changing the man at the top.
The critical question is whether the Muslim Brotherhood will become part of the Egyptian government. That is the single most important question. The future of Egypt, the future of U.S.-Egypt relations, the future of Egypt’s relations with U.S. allies in the region — all these depend on whether the Egyptian army allows the Muslim Brotherhood to come into the government.
If the Muslim Brotherhood comes in, then you will see the end of the peace treaty with Israel, calls for a new war with Israel, and an expansionist Egypt the likes of which we have not seen since the 1950s.
If, on the other hand, the army keeps the Muslim Brotherhood out, then you could see a soft landing to this uprising, which observers believe Obama would claim, and rightly so, as a victory for his foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves, and the Saudis are worried. The government of Tunisia fell, the government of Egypt fell, and they’re worried they may be next.
They fear Obama may dump them the way he did Mubarak — unceremoniously, and publicly.
And the Saudis lack even the claim to legitimacy that Mubarak had. They are a family, and Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world that has taken the name of one family to be the name of the country.
Mubarak at least had come out of the Egyptian military, and had been supported by the Egyptian army for 30 years. So the Saudis are worried, and they have a right to be, because they do not have a great deal of legitimacy.
How will the transition in Egypt affect U.S. national security? It all depends on the role to the Muslim Brotherhood plays.
If the Muslim Brotherhood were brought in, it would be a tremendous blow to U.S. national security. It would make us far less secure around the world, and it would embolden the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow regimes in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan, in Yemen, and also to work more actively inside Iraq.
If the Muslim Brotherhood were kept out of power, however, then Obama would say, “You see, I was able to engineer this transition in Egypt while upholding America’s national security interest and American values.”
So this could swing dramatically either way. The obvious parallel is with the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Former President Jimmy Carter decided at a certain point to drop the Shah, and it is obvious Obama made a similar decision to actively show Mubarak the door.
So we could be looking at a devastating catastrophe on the level of the fall of the Shah, which gave us 30 years of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
Conversely, it could be the equivalent of the liberation of Iraq in 2003, followed by a credible, reasonably popular government.
The stakes are huge. An amazing catastrophe or an extraordinary success — we just don’t know which one it will be yet.
It all depends on the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
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