News / Middle East

Uprising in Egypt Continues, As Does Speculation on Outcome

Demonstrators hold a sign reading
Demonstrators hold a sign reading "Long live Egypt", top left, and wave Egyptian flags during a protest in support of the Egyptian people, in central Rome, Italy, Monday, Jan. 31, 2011.
Mohamed ElshinnawiLaurel Bowman

Protesters in Egypt show no signs of abating their call for President Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power. Late on Monday, Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman said he is authorized to open a dialogue with the opposition.

The U.S. has shared strong ties with Egypt since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and, many analysts say, Egypt under Mr. Mubarak has promoted US interests in the Middle East, especially by maintaining the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.  

So far the U.S. has proceeded with caution in commenting on whether President Mubarak should step aside. But Egyptian voices inside the country and out say a revolution is under way, and the United States, no matter what position it takes, can do little to direct it.

As protests in Egypt reach the one week mark, the uprising shows no signs of stopping.  In fact, it seems to be gaining steam.  This despite army tanks on the ground and helicopters circling overhead.

Key Players in Egypt's Crisis

  • President Hosni Mubarak: The 82-year-old has ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party. Egypt's longest-serving president came to power after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei: The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. Until recently he headed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and he has lived outside Egypt for years. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.
  • Vice President Omar Suleiman: The new Egyptian vice president has served as head of intelligence and is a close ally of President Mubarak. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.
  • Ayman Nour: The political dissident founded the Al Ghad or "tomorrow" party. Nour ran against Mr. Mubarak in the 2005 election and was later jailed on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community.
  • Muslim Brotherhood: The Islamic fundamentalist organization is outlawed in Egypt, but remains the largest opposition group. Its members previously held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but lost them after a disputed election in late 2010. The group leads a peaceful political and social movement aimed at forming an Islamic state.

"This great Egyptian revolution.  We are in a revolution.  And we will destroy Mubarak," said one protester.

President Hosni Mubarak appointed a vice president for the first time since taking power in 1981. He has also appointed a new interior minister.

But protesters say they want Mr. Mubarak and his government out."Our demand is for the end of the regime," said Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei, who has become the face of the pro-democracy movement.

He says change does not mean Islamic fundamentalism is coming to Egypt."This is what the regime used to sell to the West and the U.S.  It’s either us, repression or Al Qaida-type Islamists.  That is, that is not Egypt," he said.

Meantime, in the US, demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Mubarak are ongoing.

Egyptian student Maryam Aziz asks President Barack Obama what the US is supporting. "Thirty years of Mubarak, $30 billion of US aid equals three decades of US tyranny," she said.

And Leading Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim says much the same.  "We are asking the US government to be true to its own traditions and stand by its own principles and support the people," he said.

The Obama administration has called for an orderly transition to a responsive government, but not directly for Mr. Mubarak to leave.

Regime change is a risk for the United States, many analysts say. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition movement, has an Islamic agenda.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs implied that Washington is concerned about the Brotherhood participating in a future government. "To participate in this ongoing democratic process, one has to take part in it but not use it as a way of simply becoming or taking over that process simply to put themselves in power," he said.

Marina Ottaway, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the US should not be afraid. "We are not going to see the scenario that the U.S. dreaded so much that Islamists take over," she said.

But some analysts say it may not matter what the US does or does not say.

Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan, said "You are not behind the curve for years and then you make a couple of statements and hope that people will listen to what you are saying.  I don’t think that, frankly, Egyptians are listening to what the U.S. is saying today."

Michele Dunne is editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin. "The United States in a very difficult position.  I don’t think any of us see the demonstrators giving up or this petering out," she said.

The U.S. may end up with little choice in the outcome of what may be the largest popular uprising in Egypt's history.

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