Egypt Crisis Changes U.S. Hopes

The crisis in Egypt has a range of implications for U.S. objectives in the region. Host Liane Hansen talks with Martin Indyk, the vice president and director of foreign policy at Brookings who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Egypt has been an ally of the United States for decades, and what happens there has a range of implications for U.S. objectives in the region. Martin Indyk is vice president and director of foreign policy at Brookings. He once served as U.S. ambassador to Israel. He's in our Washington studio. Thank you for coming in.

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Vice President, Director of Foreign Policy, Brookings Institute): Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: So, what is at stake here? The Obama administration has to safeguard American interests as well as support the will of the protestors. It's a difficult balancing act.

Mr. INDYK: It is indeed. Egypt is a United States strategic cornerstone in the Middle East. War and peace decisions, which are critically important to the United States because of the strategic importance of the Middle East with its oil - war and peace decisions depend on Cairo, whether it's prosecuting the war in Iraq or even Afghanistan. We require the logistical flow-through that comes from Egypt's geographic centrality.

And whether it's when it comes to peacemaking, Egypt is the largest country and the most powerful country to make peace with Israel three decades ago is the cornerstone of our efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

HANSEN: And what effect might this uprising in Egypt have on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Mr. INDYK: Well, potentially we could see the unraveling of the whole Arab-Israeli effort to resolve the conflict. But I think that's just one of the most important stakes. Egypt is the custodian of the status quo. It's as if Mubarak serves as the anchor for all of the other Arab autocrats in the region happen to be our allies as well.

And Egypt is so much bigger, so much more important that if Mubarak does create a kind of tsunami effect in the region. On the other hand, the compact with the Egyptian people has clearly been broken. I think that Mubarak, by this point, is a dead man walking, and the United States has to get on the side of history if it's going to be able to preserve its interests here.

HANSEN: Does the announcement that the Obama administration would review its aid to Egypt seem as a threat to President Mubarak?

Mr. INDYK: I think that's a signal to the Egyptian military to not go out and shoot the demonstrators, that the United States cannot afford to be identified with a military crackdown of a popular movement to seek freedom of expression.

HANSEN: The United States also relies on Egypt to be a front against Islamic extremism in the Arab world. Do these protests change the scope of that particular partnership?

Mr. INDYK: I think what's most interesting about that is that we do not see the Muslim Brotherhood out in force leading this revolt. This is a popular revolt. It is in many ways leaderless, and the Muslim Brotherhood stayed on the sidelines, now they're involved. But they're a minority. When you look at those pictures on your television screen, you don't see a lot of beards and you don't hear a lot of fundamentalist slogans.

Allahu Akbar is not the predominant call of the demonstrators. It is Mubarak has to go.

HANSEN: And briefly, what do you think is the best possible outcome here for the U.S.?

Mr. INDYK: I think it's important to understand that while Mubarak is the pharaoh, we have here a military regime. The military is all important. Notice that the soldiers are in the streets but they are embracing the demonstrators, not firing on them. The military becomes the key here to a stable transition, to, hopefully, a democratic leadership.

And I think the fact that Mubarak has finally designated Suleiman head of the military intelligence as his vice president provides the key to movement forward. Suleiman needs to move against his leader and stand for new elections, presidential elections in which he should not stand.

HANSEN: Martin Indyk is vice president and director of foreign policy at Brookings. Thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. INDYK: Thank you.

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