President Mubarak staying in power fuels instability in Egypt, jeopardizes the region, and threatens the process of free elections to come. After delayed statements of US support for freedom in Egypt, Obama can no longer afford to equivocate on Mubarak.
Even if the demonstrations fail to overthrow one of the longest-serving autocrats in modern history, then Mr. Mubarak will be an ineffective leader without any popular support. Egypt’s pre-imminence in the Arab world will diminish with a weakened leader who has lost touch with the reality of a public intent on removing him from power.
This is not the time for doubt, waiting, or conditional support from the Obama administration. It must offer a clear statement that Mubarak needs to step down and allow for a transitional government to take over until free elections can be held.
Should Mubarak manage to stay in power, he would no longer be able to serve the interests of the US in the region. With no popular support or regional clout, Mubarak would be unable to contribute to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that President Obama desperately wants to get under way. And the secular nature of Egyptian society would suffer under a weakened leader who has historically kept Islamic extremists at arm’s length.
The Obama administration still appears to be weighing its options as to how to respond to the unprecedented upheaval in Egypt. Even after late-issued support for the cause of democracy in Egypt and an overdue call for free elections, the US government has remained mum on whether Mubarak should stay.
The White House and State Department initially issued careful, measured statements – both denouncing violence and supporting the need for reforms, while also acknowledging Mubarak’s role as an ally. Just yesterday, the State Department sent former ambassador to Egypt, Frank G. Wisner, to Cairo where he is "meeting with Egyptian officials and providing his assessment." If he carries with him any message from the White House, it has not been made public.
By the time the administration figures things out, the events on the ground may move too fast for an unequivocal response to be meaningful.