America Greets A New Egypt

President Obama hailed the Egyptian protesters Friday and said the resignation of President Mubarak is a new beginning. Host Scott Simon speaks with Marc Lynch, director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, about what could be in store for U.S.-Egypt relations in the post-Mubarak era.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Obama hailed the Egyptian protestors yesterday. Said the resignation of President Mubarak's a new beginning.

President BARACK OBAMA: The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same.

SIMON: President spoke at the White House and said the United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. How may that relationship change? Marc Lynch is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University. Of the past few weeks he's helped us understand the recent uprisings in the Middle East, first in Tunisia and then in Egypt.

Earlier today he told us what struck him about the past 18 days of protest in Egypt.

Professor MARC LYNCH (Director, Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University): It's amazing what's happened with the Egyptian people, not just that they were able to overthrow a dictator, which people didn't think was possible, but that they've managed to avoid the kind of violence, the disorganization, the chaos, for 18 days. Any spark could have set off bloodshed and chaos. And it's astonishing how they were able to avoid that.

SIMON: For 30 years, more or less, U.S. policy in Egypt was built around Hosni Mubarak. What's the building block now.

Mr. LYNCH: Well, I think that you've seen very clearly in what Obama has been saying that he wants to see a new Egypt emerge, which is based on more representation, more accountability, more democracy and one which more reflects the will of the Egyptian people. And I think that's really important is that, yes, our relationship with Hosni Mubarak has been a pillar of American strategy.

But everybody's been able to see for years now that this wasn't stable. This wasn't going to be able to last. We've been watching the regime fray around the edges. They've been in this state of clampdown and emergency for years, especially with the attempt to arrange the transition to Gamal Mubarak as Hosni Mubarak's successor.

And basically what it's meant is that Egypt has been frozen. They haven't been an effective partner. And so I think the goal going forward then is to have an Egypt, which is a strong partner of the United States and one which isn't hobbled by all of these internal problems.

SIMON: We're learning now in the past 18 days that there apparently were some calls from members of the Obama administration to people in the Egyptian military. I don't want to presume to know more than just the reports that we've read, but tell us about that relationship now that the military is in charge, and does the United States have some leverage there?

Mr. LYNCH: I don't know if leverage is exactly the right word but I think that there is a strong relationship, and I think that at all levels, from the very top all the way down to the mid-level, you saw a consistent set of messages going from the United States to the Egyptian military saying don't be complicit in violence against the protesters.

I mean, it's easy now after the euphoria to forget that Tiananmen in Tahrir was always possible. And I think that it's a testament to the Egyptian military that that didn't happen and I think that we did everything we could to make sure that didn't.

The flip side of that is that we've been listening very carefully to what they've been saying about their vision of a future Egypt and I think there's a dialogue going on right now. At least in its public statements, the administration's been really clear that it doesn't want to accept just another military dictatorship. That's why he keeps talking about no-foe democracy, a real road back to transition.

That's going to be hard now. Mubarak was the one thing that everybody in Egypt could agree on and he's gone now.

SIMON: And let me ask you about elsewhere in the region. For example, another friend of the United States, King Abdullah in Jordan, while the demonstration in Liberation Square was going on, he already undertook to enact some reforms. How do you think what's happened in Egypt is going to affect U.S. policy in the rest of the region?

Mr. LYNCH: Well, everybody's running scared and you're seeing a lot of - both the people in the streets are being mobilized in all of these countries. There are protests today in Algeria, for example. Bahrain is heating up a little bit. You're seeing the governments doing everything they can to get out in front of this. King Abdullah with a new government. A lot of people throwing money at the people, trying to buy them off. I think it could go in either direction and I think here's where American leadership could make some difference.

It's possible they'll crack down and just say, look, we're not going to let any snowball start rolling. And that could be ugly. Or they could say, you know, if we don't want to be Hosni Mubarak, we've got to start reforming now and stop trying to stall.

SIMON: Marc Lynch, George Washington University, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LYNCH: Thanks, Scott.

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