President Obama is signaling the Egyptian opposition that their time has come. In a terse statement last night, Mr. Obama announced a “moment of transformation” had arrived in Egypt, “the status quo is not sustainable” and a new government must begin to form “now.” An administration official later reiterated, “the key part of the statement was ‘now.’ ” Today the formerly peaceful protests in Egypt turned violent. It turns out that words do have consequences.
Egypt is at a crossroads, a time of suspense when change could come gradually and peacefully, or quickly with maximum instability. The White House has chosen to back the latter course, which will play into the hands of the best organized, most radical factions, which in this case is the America-hating Muslim Brotherhood.
The Obama administration is strangely adamant that Muslim religious parties have to play a key role in the new government, and U.S. officials reportedly are reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood behind the scenes. White House wishes aside, an Islamist government is not in Egypt’s interest and certainly not in the interest of the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to increase the influence of shariah worldwide and reverse the progress Egypt has made in becoming a more Western, more secular state. Its foreign policy was succinctly summed up by brotherhood leader Muhammad Ghannem, who said the Egyptian people should “be prepared for a war against Israel.” None of this will be good for America, the Mideast or the world.
On Tuesday, embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak acknowledged it was time for change and promised to step down in the autumn, a pledge intended to defuse the tension Mr. Obama seeks to ramp up. The Egyptian Army, the best organized and most pro-Western force in the society, is for the moment siding with the established government. With a transition period stretching into the fall, more opposition groups will have time to organize and more political parties would bring more choices for the Egyptian people, as well as more opportunities for the United States to influence events in a positive way.
Mr. Obama, however, is intent on throwing this opportunity away. His administration doesn't have a strategy, only preachy rhetoric. Its actions will only inflame this delicate situation and give radical voices the upper hand.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama showed no such inclination to support regime change during the George W. Bush administration. Nor, as president, did Mr. Obama make such a strident call for change when Iranians took to the streets to protest against their hardline Islamist theocracy. In the summer of 2009, when power was in the streets of Tehran, Mr. Obama chose to make only lukewarm statements about how Iran’s ayatollahs needed to listen more. When it comes to a 30-year partner of the United States, a man who has helped keep peace in the region and been a durable ally in the war on terrorism, Mr. Obama is quick to toss Mr. Mubarak under the bus.
Pushing for immediate regime change in Egypt is not in American or Egyptian interests. Cutting the legs out from an already tottering regime could easily lead to widespread violence. If so, some of Egypt's blood will be on Mr. Obama’s hands.
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