Uh oh: White House declines to endorse Mubarak in Egypt

To be fair, the White House is in a tough spot, as Allahpundit noted yesterday.    We traditionally oppose dictatorships and support democratization movements.  In places like Tunisia, where democratization efforts are championed by secular, more Western-friendly forces, that’s an easy mission for the US to back.  In Egypt, however, the energy behind the political opposition comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist force seeking not democracy but a new theocracy.  And if this sounds familiar, it should:

White House Declines to Say If US Still Supports Egypt’s Mubarak

Asked Wednesday whether the U.S. still supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated that Egypt remains “a strong ally” and stressed the importance of universal rights for the people of Egypt.

“This isn’t about support or opposition to leaders – it’s about the support universal rights of assembly and expression. We criticize actions that restrict those values,” Gibbs told ABC News.

Gibbs said that the White House is “still monitoring the situation” in Egypt, where Mubarak is the target of protesters opposing his authoritarian government.

In 1979, another US administration faced a similar problem in Iran, which had been ruled by the Shah with something less than a velvet glove.  Claims of human rights violations by the Shah and his security forces were well-documented, although the Shah had claimed — with highly dubious merit — to be modernizing and reforming his government.  (He had instituted one-party rule four years previous to the crisis, and had attempted to build a cult of personality to sustain his throne.)  The Shah fell as the result of a popular uprising, perhaps aided somewhat by the less-than-enthusiastic support given by Jimmy Carter and his administration in the preceding weeks, although to be fair again the CIA had just predicted that the Shah’s position was secure for the next decade.

Given Mubarak’s status as a de facto president-for-life and his own track record of political suppression, it’s almost impossible for Obama to endorse Mubarak.  However, by signaling sudden distance between Mubarak and the US, the impulse to stage a coup will certainly not decrease.  If Mubarak falls, the result will almost certainly be either a seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood or a military coup, both hardly desirable outcomes in Egpyt, especially considering its strategic position on the Suez Canal.

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of Egypt, Israel will suddenly face an existential threat to its south and from Gaza, as well as a new Hezbollah-run Lebanon in the north.  That’s a nightmare scenario for Israel, which has its own issues with Mubarak but nothing on the scale of what may be coming.