As expected, President Hosni Mubarak’s promise not to seek re-election has not appeased the huge crowds of Egyptians who are determined to remove him from power immediately. The regime mobilized thousands of supporters, who clashed with protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Such clashes are sure to inflame the situation and risk dragging the army, the most important force for stability in Egypt, into a spiraling series of confrontations with opposition demonstrators egged on by radical anti-democratic groups. Such an escalation of political violence would discredit the army and undermine its ability to oversee a transition to a stable democracy. The longer President Mubarak clings to power, the more likely the situation will further deteriorate and create a situation even more favorable to the eventual triumph of the anti-freedom Muslim Brotherhood.
At this point, the best step forward for Egypt and for U.S. interests in ensuring that a genuine democracy emerges in Egypt is for President Mubarak to step down. This would allow the army to preserve its institutional power and allow it to continue to serve as a bulwark against radical Islamism. As Daniel Pipes noted in National Review Online, Egypt’s army has historically acted to rein in the ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has suppressed since 1954. But if the military leadership splinters into factions or the troops on the streets dissolve into the massive crowds demanding Mubarak’s resignation, then the Muslim Brotherhood would have a much greater opportunity to hijack the populist revolt against the unpopular Egyptian president.
By stepping down and transferring power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, President Mubarak would help increase the chances that Egypt can make the difficult transition to a stable democracy. Such a move would help calm the situation and allow the army to ensure that Egypt can undertake free and fair elections to form a new government.