Mubarak Exit Looks Like Obama Win, For Now

Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Feb. 11, 2011. i i

Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Feb. 11, 2011. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Feb. 11, 2011.

Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Feb. 11, 2011.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

In the immediate wake of fast-moving and still ambiguous events coming out Egypt Friday, the news that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has really and truly stepped down, it's hard to see how it's not an immediate political win for President Obama.

For nearly two weeks, Obama was criticized by both those who wanted more robust signs of support for the Egyptian protesters demanding true democratic reforms and those who wanted him to double down on the Egyptian president as a solid American ally of long-standing.

While the president clearly didn't make either side happy, his tilt towards the Egyptian people was obvious in virtually every statement that emanated from the White House.

In the end, the anti-Mubarak protesters provided enough street heat to force out the strongman of three-decades duration, with the Egyptian military taking control of the Arab nation.

So on the surface it appears the president made the right bet though much rides on what happens now.

If the military fails to move fast enough to hold free and fair elections or if free and fair elections are held the new government becomes decidedly anti-U.S. and anti-Israel, then there'll be furious second-guessing of the rightness of the president's approach to Egypt.

But for the time being, it looks like events have worked out as well as they could have for Obama. Having enjoyed the fruits of democracy for two centuries, Americans across the ideological spectrum tend to want their president to support demands for democracy elsewhere.

The disagreements have occurred over how to achieve it, that is, through military force or less violent means.

The Obama administration's support for the aspirations of the Egyptian people and open, sometimes testy questioning of how Mubarak planned to move his nation towards a transition to democracy appears to be on the right side of history.

It even had some bipartisan support, with Obama's 2008 Republican rival for the White House, Sen. John McCain, saying that Mubarak had to go.

While there are more questions than answers right now about Egypt's future, one thing is likely true about the autocrats in the region as a whole; the message of Obama's 2009 Cairo speech probably has a new and scary resonance for them. He said:

I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.