Catch-22 for U.S. on Egypt?

Even as this is typed, it is a fair guess that the situation in Egypt is changing, at least a little. Western media has been illustrating the fluidity of the Egyptian protests by highlighting the speed of information being posted in social media forums like Twitter (in spite of attempts by Mubarak’s government to prevent it), and by regular updates to the story – a story that might have ended up with the same clips for an entire news day if it wasn’t for rapid changes on the ground.

I’ve chosen footage from Al Jazeera above primarily because they are the “biggest game in town” for the Middle East, and not for any agenda they may or may not have.

While relatively unexpected, it was not utterly unpredictable that President Hosni Mubarak would come out stating that he intends to step down from the elections in September. It was theoretically always an option since the protests started, but an unlikely choice, especially not with the additional comment that he does not intend to place his son on the ballot to replace him. As for the protesters, it would be better if they would accept this, and get to work on building a new political system – organize parties in preparation for an open election. However, there is little hope that they will accept Mubarak’s concession, and willingly wait for him to step down in about seven months. Based on the words of the protesters in the footage above, it seems that they will settle for nothing less than Mubarek leaving office immediately. If that would happen, the likelihood of severe political unrest in Egypt increases significantly, if for no other reason, because there is no political structure (outside of the Muslim Brotherhood that may or may not be prepared to fill the void) waiting in the wings to replace Mubarak’s government.

Add the latest round of protests in Amman, Jordan, and the U.S. is left with a foreign relations nightmare in the Middle East. While the Muslim Brotherhood is apparently remaining in the shadows in Egypt, they are active in Jordan, and will undoubtedly be dissatisfied with the Jordanian King just firing his government officials. They want the King to give up the ability to appoint government officials, not just get rid of the current leaders.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, while it may claim to only be interested in promoting free elections in the Middle East, and social justice programs for the people, one must remember that its founder believed firmly in the Islamic faith having a place in the everyday lives and governance of the people. Any “democracy” created with the influence of this organization will not resemble secular forms of government we see in the West, and more likely than not, these governments will not recognize Israel as a sovereign state in the best circumstances. Worst case scenario, they could become hostile toward Israel, and her allies.

So the U.S. is left between a rock and a hard place. Expressing support for the status quo, or supporting the spread of democracy in the Middle East does little for our future diplomatic relations in the Middle East. There have been commentaries out there that suggest this could be Obama’s equivalent of Carter’s Iran. But it is too early to call for conservatives to take to the streets here in celebration.

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