He wants to stay on until the next elections, which even he now acknowledges should be sped up from their scheduled date in September. I’m … reasonably sure that’s a non-starter for everyone at this point. So why even propose it? Four possibilities. One: Losing control has led him to lose touch with reality, i.e. he sincerely believes he can hold on. Two: The pride borne of 30 years of absolute power means he’s not leaving on anyone’s terms but his own. Three: It’s worth a shot, no? The protesters are almost certain to reject the idea, but if you’re down by three touchdowns with a minute to play, why not go for the end zone and see what happens? Maybe enough of them will find this a palatable compromise that the crowds will shrink and eventually lose steam. Four: He wanted to screw Obama after the U.S. started nudging him towards the exit. Mubarak surely understands that The One is in a bind, not wanting to shove him too hard lest the Saudis and Jordanians get even more nervous about the White House’s commitment to them. Now that he’s offered a “reasonable solution” — one which follows the advice leaked by the White House to the press — isn’t Obama required to support him?
“I have spent enough time serving Egypt,” he said.
Earlier, President Barack Obama told the Egyptian leader through a special envoy not to run again, according to American diplomats…
“In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term,” Mubarak said…
“This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil,” he said.
He also said pledged to implement a series of reforms, including calling on the judiciary to combat corruption, one of the complaints of protesters…
Mubarak wanted to stay in office and continue to make small changes, touting them as progress, a senior U.S. official told NBC News, but [White House envoy Frank] Wisner reinforced the point that the Egyptian president cannot hold on until the next election.
That last bit jibes with what Jackson Diehl of WaPo claimed earlier on Twitter, that Mubarak flatly told Wisner that he won’t quit. A really good question posed by Max Boot at Commentary: Why on earth did Obama urge Mubarak to declare he won’t run again rather than to leave ASAP? I get that the White House is trying to signal to other Arab regimes that we won’t turn on an ally completely, even under intense pressure, but no one seriously believes this new proposal will satisfy the protesters. If Mubarak ends up being deposed or fleeing in terror in the next few days anyway, it’ll make Obama’s demand look lame and ridiculous. Boot:
[D]oes Obama really think that the vast throngs filling the streets of Cairo will stand for Mubarak remaining in office until September? That would have been a good demand to deliver a few months, weeks, or even days ago. Now it’s been overtaken by events. Clearly nothing will satisfy the demonstrators other than Mubarak’s removal from office.
The question is what comes next: who makes up the transitional government? One hopes that, behind the scenes, this question is consuming the administration and its best experts on Egypt, and that they are fruitfully engaging not only with the opposition but also with the army, which remains the most powerful power broker in the country. Liberal democrats are in a race with the Muslim Brotherhood to control Egypt’s destiny. We need to help them. We need to get ahead of the curve. For once.
Protest organizers met yesterday and vowed that they’d make no concessions in negotiating with new VP Omar Suleiman until Mubarak was gone, and if you believe the Muslim Brotherhood, there are already talks between the military and the opposition to push him out. Since the army’s sworn not to use force against the protesters and the Egyptian economy is crumbling from eight days of paralysis, I assume there are no options left realistically except a military coup sooner rather than later followed by some sort of transitional power-sharing agreement between Suleiman and the opposition. ElBaradei’s allies claim he’s been talking to the army too about possibly being named interim president.
Exit question: What’s our next move? Start pushing Mubarak to enact specific reforms, and if he doesn’t, use that as a pretext to formally abandon him? Knowing he’s a dead man walking, the White House must be desperate for reasons to dump this guy quickly and salvage whatever tiny bit of goodwill still remains among protesters. Presumably, unless he does everything we ask of him going forward, there’s going to be some sort of reckoning.
Update: Bad moon rising: Al Jazeera English is reporting clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters in Alexandria, with shots being fired. The hot rumor over the weekend was that Mubarak had ordered state police off the street in hopes that the resulting chaos would keep protesters at home this week. That didn’t happen, so maybe we’re at stage two of that strategy now — out-and-out attacks on protesters, with the army forced to choose between standing by or firing on the instigators.
Or maybe Mubarak has nothing to do with this and it’s just tensions in the street boiling over. Stay tuned.
Update: We won’t have to wait long to find out whether the Mubarak “I’m staying until elections” plan is still acceptable to Obama. Tapper’s reporting on Twitter that he’ll speak within the next hour or so.