So What’s Going on in Egypt Now?

It looks like Egypt is cooling off a bit after the violent clashes between pro-Mubarak forces and everyone else (journalists, anti-Mubarak protesters, foreigners).  Now leaders from both sides are meeting to discuss ways to move forward, but protests are showing no signs of ending soon.  Here’s the report from CNN:

Opposition leaders and intellectuals met with Egypt’s vice president Saturday to discuss avenues for easing embattled President Hosni Mubarak from power, the number one demand of tens of thousands of demonstrators. Among the proposals under discussion is Article 139 of the constitution, which allows for the vice president to assume control if the president is no longer able.

At least one opposition group, the leftist Tagammu party, is asking the government to activate the article’s powers so that Suleiman can take charge immediately and allow Mubarak to make a graceful exit.

A member of the self-declared Committee of the Wise, told CNN that Suleiman was willing to listen.

The group of independent elites — intellectuals, artists, diplomats and businessmen — wants to be at the table during crucial government transition talks.

They called on protests to continue at Tahrir Square every Tuesday and Friday until Mubarak “resigns and makes true the demands of the people.”

Saturday’s talks were taking place as crowds massed again in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a 12th day of protests demanding an end to Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule over the Arab world’s most populous nation.

After chaos and bloodshed earlier in the week, Cairo remained calm Saturday.

Cars traveled over a nearby overpass in the central city. Outside the Egyptian Museum, people prayed as soldiers stood guard. Protesters who had spent the night swept sidewalks with palm branches and bought food from carts stationed in the square.

Well at least the violence has ended (for now), but there are still a lot of issues to be worked out.  Charles Krauthammer tackles those issues in his latest column.  He calls ElBaradei a “useful idiot” who will be used by the Muslim Brotherhood for their own benefit:

Yes, the Egyptian revolution is broad-based. But so were the French and the Russian and the Iranian revolutions. Indeed in Iran, the revolution only succeeded – the shah was long opposed by the mullahs – when the merchants, the housewives, the students and the secularists joined to bring him down.

And who ended up in control? The most disciplined, ruthless and ideologically committed – the radical Islamists.

This is why our paramount moral and strategic interest in Egypt is real democracy in which power does not devolve to those who believe in one man, one vote, one time. That would be Egypt’s fate should the Muslim Brotherhood prevail. That was the fate of Gaza, now under the brutal thumb of Hamas, a Palestinian wing (see article 2 of Hamas’ founding covenant) of the Muslim Brotherhood.

We are told by sage Western analysts not to worry about the Brotherhood because it probably commands only about 30% of the vote. This is reassurance? In a country where the secular democratic opposition is weak and fractured after decades of persecution, any Islamist party commanding a third of the vote rules the country.

Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.

The House of Mubarak is no more. He is 82, reviled and not running for reelection. The only question is who fills the vacuum. There are two principal possibilities: a provisional government of opposition forces, possibly led by Mohamed ElBaradei, or an interim government led by the military.

ElBaradei would be a disaster. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he did more than anyone to make an Iranian nuclear bomb possible, covering for the mullahs for years. (As soon as he left, the IAEA issued a strikingly tough, unvarnished report about the program.)

Worse, ElBaradei has allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood. Such an alliance is grossly unequal. The Brotherhood has organization, discipline and widespread support. In 2005, it won approximately 20% of parliamentary seats. ElBaradei has no constituency of his own, no political base, no political history within Egypt at all.

He has lived abroad for decades. He has less of a residency claim to Egypt than Rahm Emanuel has to Chicago. A man with no constituency allied with a highly organized and powerful political party is nothing but a mouthpiece and a figurehead, a useful idiot that the Brotherhood will dispense with when it ceases to have need of a cosmopolitan frontman.

The Egyptian military, on the other hand, is the most stable and important institution in the country. It is Western-oriented and rightly suspicious of the Brotherhood. And it is widely respected, carrying the prestige of the 1952 “Free Officers Movement” that overthrew the monarchy and the 1973 October War that restored Egyptian pride along with the Sinai.

The military is the best vehicle for guiding the country to free elections over the coming months. Whether it does so with Mubarak at the top, or with Vice President Omar Suleiman or perhaps with some technocrat who arouses no ire among the demonstrators, matters not to us. If the army calculates that sacrificing Mubarak (through exile) will satisfy the opposition and end the unrest, so be it.

UPDATE: Check out my take on what Mubarak’s ouster means for the U.S., Egypt, and the entire Middle East:


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