At first, the White House seemed to signal that it endorsed, tentatively, diplomatically, this simple truth. But it has since backtracked. Our envoy Frank Wisner, a former diplomat and current attorney whose firm has represented the Egyptian government, said Mubarak “must stay in office in order to steer [democratic] changes through.” Hillary Clinton was forced to distance herself from the remark but not, it appears, from the underlying logic. At a recent conference in Munich the secretary of state expressed the administration’s wariness of a democratic revolution “hijacked” by authoritarian forces, a more sober version of Glenn Beck’s fear. The result of the public US message, the New York Times reported, “has been to feed a perception, on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, that the United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals.”
“We got caught in a trap,” says Steve Clemons, who runs the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. “What the people wanted is regime-change and we became advocates of regime-adjustment.” In concrete terms “regime-adjustment” appears to mean that Omar Suleiman, torture supervisor and Mubarak loyalist, will preside over the transition to elections in the fall while Mubarak stays in power; the thirty-year “emergency law” endures; and the monstrous security apparatus, which Suleiman oversees, remains intact. To Egypt’s democratic movement this must sound a lot like “No you can’t.”
By the time you read this, of course, events in Egypt may have definitively broken free of our counseled incrementalism.
Also, if you're looking for a 20 minute crash course on the history of modern Egypt, last week's episode of The Breakdown features a wonderfully fluent exploration of the context of the uprising with Colgate historian Dr. Noor Khan.