Foreign Affairs

Will Suleiman Get the Heave-ho Next?

While Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak relinquished some of his powers last night, he also refused to abdicate his office despite widespread rumors that dominated the world press throughout the day. 

But it remains quite obvious that the White House wants him out before the September exit date he set last month.  Beginning on Thursday, Jan. 27, when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called Mubarak’s regime “stable,” to the next day when both Gibbs and President Obama began distancing themselves from the Egyptian president (who announced on the 28th he would step down in September), to last week, the administration has steadily ratcheted up its criticisms of the embattled Mubarak as demonstrations in Cairo have mushroomed.

Mubarak is gradually turning power over to Vice President Omar Suleiman.  Well-known and well-liked in the U.S. and Israel, the 74-year-old former intelligence boss even appeared moderate as he called for meetings with political opponents and sat down with the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Mubarak man to the core, Suleiman nonetheless appeared a preferable and even fresh alternative to the embattled president in Cairo. 

But the latest statements from the administration lead even the least cynical observer to conclude that Suleiman is now getting the “Murbarak treatment” (or the “Shah of Iran treatment”) even before he assumes the presidency.

Two days ago, citing the most recent of three calls from Vice President Biden to Suleiman, Gibbs told White House correspondents that “an orderly transition must begin now, that it must produce without delay immediate and irreversible progress.  And I think it is clear that what the government has thus far put forward has yet to meet a minimum threshold for the people of Egypt.  That’s why many of you reported the crowds in yesterday’s protests were bigger than even those on Friday.”

As to whether Suleiman’s transition process was in line with that of the U.S., Gibbs said flatly:  “[T]he process for his transition does not appear to be in line with the people of Egypt, and I think we believe that more has to be done, and I think, more importantly, the people of Egypt think more has to be done.”

Acknowledging that “the participants on the government side are—is—Vice President Suleiman,” President Obama’s top spokesman concluded about the talks with opponents of the Egyptian government this way:  “What we see happening on the streets of Cairo is not altogether surprising when you understand the lack of steps that the government has taken to address their concerns.  I mean, I think that’s what we see happening.”

This is not, to say the least, a ringing endorsement of Suleiman.

Gibbs made it clear the administration has had no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood—“Not that I’m aware of,” in Gibbs-speak. 

HUMAN EVENTS asked him whether the administration was talking to potential presidential candidates such as Mohamed ElBaradei or former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa (secretary-general of the Arab League).  “[L]et me check and see if the embassy has any more guidance,” Gibbs said.  “I know that the embassy reached out and talk [sic] with Mr. ElBaradei, I want to say sometime—a lot of days run together—I think sometime early last week.  Let me see if I can get a better sense of when that date was and whether we’ve had other contact with each of those individuals.”


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