The accompanying photo reveals precisely what was wrong with Day 13 of the Egyptian Revolution. There you see Suleiman sitting around an opulent Louis XIV-channeling table “negotiating” with his ostensible opponents, while outside the protests continue unabated and the demonstrators demand remain unmet. Worst of all, Pres. Obama and his foreign policy brain trust say meetings like this are fine and dandy. The U.S. has caved on the primary demand that Mubarak leave. It’s willing to see the Egyptian élite stall, trying to let the air out of the tires of the street protests until they can resume power and get back to business as usual.
Suleiman, like Mubarak, is a survivor, a wily fellow fully capable of taking maximum advantage of an opening when it’s offered to him. So he left the meeting pictured at left and trumpeted to Egypt and the world media that the group had arrived at a “consensus.” Of course, the consensus was the minimum he thought he could get away with offering without causing all hell to break loose in the streets once again, which included:
…The promise to form a committee to recommend constitutional changes by early March. The other elements echoed pledges Mr. Mubarak had already made, including a limit on how many terms a president can serve.
In other words, Mubarak stays, the old order stays until the old order agrees to go (“never, how does never sound to you?”).
Frankly, I’m surprised the Muslim Brotherhood broke from its earlier refusal to negotiate till Mubarak left by participating in this meeting. It would’ve prevented them having to quickly renounce the meeting and Suleiman’s deft skewering of the goals of the movement with his “consensus” announcement:
…Leaders of the protest movement, including both its youthful members and Brotherhood officials, immediately denounced Mr. Suleiman’s portrayal of the meeting as a political ploy designed to suggest that some of their ranks were collaborating.
As an American, the development that most distresses me is Obama’s cave to the status quo and Egypt’s elite:
The United States and leading European nations on Saturday threw their weight behind Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, backing his attempt to defuse a popular uprising without immediately removing President Hosni Mubarak from power.
American officials said Mr. Suleiman had promised them an “orderly transition” that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups.
This is stuff n’ nonsense. Playing for time because you don’t have any better options. You don’t trust someone like Suleiman to arrive at anything like what the demonstrators are demanding if you’re serious. If you’re willing to be played, then you do what Obama’s doing.
Hillary Clinton echoed this nauseating retreat from Obama’s earlier steadfastness in demanding that Mubarak go:
“That takes some time,” Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at a Munich security conference. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”
In a separate interview, she sounded positively Polyannish:
Clinton said that she and Mr. Biden had held many conversations with Mr. Suleiman about steps toward democracy. “We hear that they are committed to this,” she said, “and when we press on concrete steps and timelines, we are given assurance that that will happen.”
And here she does a masterful job of ascribing the need for moderation and dithering (er, delay) to the Egyptians themselves, or at least some mythical Egyptian who believes the things she claims:
To explain the apparent American shift from urgent demands for change to endorsing plans for Mr. Mubarak to remain in place during a transition, Mrs. Clinton alluded to “a debate within Egypt itself, and not just in the government, but among the people of Egypt” over how to manage the timing of the transition, since the existing Egyptian Constitution would set an unrealistic deadline of two months for an election if Mr. Mubarak stepped down. That “doesn’t give anybody enough time,” she said. She has not addressed the Egyptian opposition’s suggestion for how to solve that problem: suspension of the Constitution for up to a year until a transitional unity government can organize a free election.
If the U.S. wants to sell out the demands for democracy of millions of Egyptians fine, then let ’em do it. But not in this fashion. Not by dumping our own vacillation on Egyptians and blaming them for it. The millions who’ve flooded Tahrir Square are ready for the future. And they can handle it. All that they ask is that America not sell them out and not deliver their birthright to their domestic enemies.
Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton: what in anything below indicates that this man sees things as you do or will do any of the things that you’ve promised he would?
In an appearance on ABC News, Mr. Suleiman said little to suggest that he was ready to move Egypt toward democracy or that he even took its youth-led democracy movement seriously.
Insisting that a transition had already begun with his meeting with members of the opposition, he reiterated that Mr. Mubarak would stay in power. If he left, Mr. Suleiman argued, “other people who have their own agenda will make instability in our country.”
Brushing aside the secular character of the youth revolt shaking Egypt and the Arab world, Mr. Suleiman suggested conspiratorially that unspecified “other people” and “an Islamic current” were in fact pushing the young people forward. “It’s not their idea,” he said. “It comes from abroad.”
And when asked about progress toward democracy, he asserted that Egypt was not ready, and would not be until “the people here will have the culture of democracy.”
If Suleiman wins this round and puts the genie back in the bottle, several things will happen: Israel and Bibi will have won another round and put off any genuine Israeli-Arab peace for another few years or more; and the Egyptian Revolution will erupt again in a month or a year or a decade, but next time with much more severe results. Justice denied wreaks a savage revenge when it finally takes hold of a society. Either we will see the police and army engage in a bloodbath or we will see a frustrated people take its own revenge on its oppressors.
Barack Obama has thus far shown no ability to stay the course in any Middle Eastern foreign policy issue. Why would he do so this time? Why would he, or even could he compel the goals of the Revolution to be realized against the will of the wily survivors like Suleiman and his tycoon cronies? He’s not willing to put himself or his office on the line for freedom in Egypt. Especially not since doing so would fly in the face of the ostensible needs of Israel, at least as articulated by its current far-right government.