Foreign Affairs

Why a President Suleiman Looks Better Every Day

As demonstrators in Egypt number in the hundreds of thousands from Cairo to Alexandria, the statements of world leaders signal that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt won’t be in power for long.

It could be a matter of days or perhaps longer, but Mubarak is on his way out.  Where statements made by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs shifted from clearly pro-Mubarak on Thursday to a lukewarm stance on the embattled Egyptian leader on Friday, remarks coming from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other Western leaders show they are looking at a post-Mubarak Egypt .

For all the strong language from the White House about democracy and nonviolence, it is also becoming clear that the U.S. would be better off with newly minted Vice President Omar Sulieman than the other Egyptian who has emerged as a political player:  Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is now marching with the demonstrators.

For a time, ElBaradei was being hailed as Egypt’s Nelson Mandela or Lech Walsea.  But in the last 24 hours, the 68-year-old arms control expert—hailed for his work in that area by Gibbs on Friday—just talked too much.  In several interviews, he indicated his desire to lead a government of national unity that would include the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hold it right there!  Did the Nobel laureate who has been embraced by the largely secular demonstrators say that?  He did, explaining to the Al Jazeera English network that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a threat like Hezbollah, but more akin to Christian conservatives in the U.S. or Orthodox Jews who participate in Israeli politics.

It is fear of the Muslim Brotherhood getting a share of power that is the last card the Mubarak regime is playing in order to hang on.  It is fear of Hamas-like figures (who began as part of the Palestinian regime and now rule Gaza ) or Hezbollah-like figures (who are now political forces in Lebanon ) that has kept the U.S. from fully abandoning Mubarak. 

If ElBaradei’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood was not enough to make one worry, it should be noted that on Oct. 4, 2009, then International Atomic Energy Agency head ElBaradei said in Tehran that “Israel is the No. 1 threat to the Middle East” because of its nuclear arms, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.  He has also indicated his comfort with Iran developing a “nuclear weapons capability.” 

“I don’t trust ElBaradei,” former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has said.  “For America, he would be bad news of a different kind.”

At 74, Suleiman is a known quantity to this country.  He is probably one of the few political figures who studied in the old Soviet Union, as well as at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  He is respected by U.S. leaders and has a close relationship with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has negotiated.


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