Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak Plays the Chaos Card

Update: After a day of false reports that he would be stepping down, Hosni Mubarak appears on Egyptian TV to offer a rambling self-justification and enrage protesting crowds with double-talk about peaceful transition. By doing so, he is inviting the chaos his supporters have been warning about--a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The question arises, "Would you buy a used camel from this man?" as Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit insists that Egypt has a "road map" for peaceful transformation and the U.S. has left him "angry, infuriated" by pressuring his boss Mubarak to step down.

With a straight face, he posits that "a stupid fellow would throw a Molotov bomb against a tank or a soldier, and it explodes." Translation: If Mubarak is backed against the wall, he could play the chaos card by igniting violence himself. Meanwhile, he will hang on and hope for the best.

It is against this background that the Obama Administration has to tap-dance around the siege of Egypt, and it is one of the downsides of our 24/7 news culture that it demands new headlines in a situation where watchful waiting should be the public position and horse-trading should be going on behind the scenes, as it undoubtedly is.

There are reports that "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, national security advisor Thomas Donilon and Defense Secretary Robert Gates...worry about regional stability and want to reassure other Middle East governments that the U.S. will not abandon an important and longtime ally.

"But that position has been harder to defend as...Mubarak allies appeared to dig in, refusing the administration's entreaties to undertake swift reforms such as scrapping the country's longstanding state of emergency," warning of "a coup" if the unrest continues.

As in all our Middle East adventures, there is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don't undercurrent that eats up our government's attention and money in an era of domestic crisis.

For a moment, the news cycle is distracted by reports of a married Congressman posing as a single lobbyist (upward mobility?) in a topless online ad, but within hours, there is the standard resignation and public apology--and we are back to worrying about Egypt.

These days, public anxiety trumps prurience.

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