Military May Be Reluctant To Push Mubarak Out

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is refusing to step down. Tarek Masoud of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government talks to Steve Inkseep about the latest political developments in Egypt, and how events there affect U.S. foreign policy options.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get some more analysis of Egypt this morning. Tarek Masoud is a Middle East specialist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He's in our studios.

Welcome back to the program.

Professor TAREK MASOUD (Public policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University): Thank you.

INSKEEP: I want to ask first about the United States. Here in Washington in the last 24 hours we've heard the CIA director say that he thought that President Mubarak was likely to resign last night. He didn't. Other strange statements were made. Do you think U.S. officials understand what is going on Egypt right now?

Prof. MASOUD: I think they probably understand it as well as anybody else can understand it right now. The problem is, I think, that Mr. Mubarak is engaged in a kind of delicate negotiation with his military. I think the military probably would like to see him go, but for a variety of reasons can't push him out or don't feel comfortable pushing him out right now.

It's not outside of the realm of possibility that they felt like they had gotten to some kind of agreement where Mubarak would go peacefully. And they communicated that to their opposite numbers here in the U.S. And then we just kind of jumped the gun.

INSKEEP: Can we assume that if the United States has good connections with anybody in Egypt it would be the military?

Prof. MASOUD: I would assume so. I would think that the military given the amount of aid that we provide them and the huge dependence they have on us for training and materiel that they would actually - we'd have very good connections with them. So I think again the kind of indeterminacy on our part in what we're saying I think is a function of the fact that the situation there is just very fluid.

INSKEEP: Although there's also - there was a strange statement made yesterday at a congressional hearing. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was referring to one of the opposition groups, the Muslim Brotherhood. He called them largely secular. Later they had to correct the record on that, backup on that.

Prof. MASOUD: Yeah.

INSKEEP: There was some confusion here about what's going on.

Prof. MASOUD: Well, I think that's maybe the verbal equivalent of a typo. I mean, the Muslim Brotherhood are lots of things. They're certainly not secular. But I don't think we should take that as evidence that we really don't know anything about what's going on in Egypt and we're just flying blind. I think that probably was just a misstatement.

INSKEEP: OK. So we think that the United States government has good connections with the military. We thought the military was largely in control of the situation in Egypt, but what was expected didn't happen. Could that possibly suggest that Mubarak is still somewhat independent of the military, that he can defy them to some degree as he's defied the protestors in the streets?

Prof. MASOUD: It could mean that. Or it could mean something else.

First of all, I mean, you notice that the language that Mubarak used was the language of a father to his children. And I think it's not at all outside of the realm of possibility that that's the language he uses with his military commanders as well. And that they actually feel that way. So to kind of push the old man out unceremoniously is something that they may be reluctant to do.

I mean, you can imagine that there was a negotiation, Mubarak said give me one more chance to speak to my people. And they said, OK, if they old man wants to speak to the people maybe he'll be able to make something happen.

And then today, obviously, we see these protests not abating. And so the military may be forced to make a choice. But I think that what they're trying to do is find an honorable exit for Mubarak.

INSKEEP: Do you think the opposition knows what to do in this situation?

Prof. MASOUD: Well, this is the problem, I think. You know, we're thinking a lot about the behind-the-scenes conversations that are happening between the military and Mubarak's government.

We don't really know what's happening among the opposition. We don't really know if they have a unified position. We don't really know if they have somebody who can actually negotiate on their behalf for the government. And that's going to be essential going forward whatever Mubarak decides to do.

INSKEEP: It was thought a week or so ago that Mubarak might've succeeded in dividing the opposition to some extent. Is it possible that yesterday's developments divided them further?

Prof. MASOUD: It's possible that yesterday's development might've united them, because, you know, him not acceding to the demands to withdraw, him not making concessions that people thought were significant enough. I think the crowds are very angry and so the opposition may - it may sort of focus their minds around this idea that he needs to leave and let's demand that.

INSKEEP: Tarek Masoud, always a pleasure to speak with you.

Prof. MASOUD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in our studios here this morning.

In Egypt, crowds are in Tahrir Square and have moved to other locations as well today. For example, the television studios, State Television. And we'll continue brining you more information as we learn it on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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