MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In Egypt, the outlines of a possible solution to political stalemate are beginning to take shape. Today, on state television, Egypt's new vice president said that President Hosni Mubarak has authorized him to open a dialogue with the opposition.
Omar Suleiman is a crafty veteran of Middle East negotiating and the former head of military intelligence in Egypt.
NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on how the new vice president might lead Egypt out of its crisis.
TOM GJELTEN: Omar Suleiman is himself a general, and his political ally in the last week has been another long-time general, Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister.
Stephen Cohen, the president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, has known both men for many years and talks to them regularly. He says Suleiman and Tantawi with the rest of the Egyptian military are now focused, above all, on the interests of the Egyptian state, not Hosni Mubarak.
Dr. STEPHEN COHEN (President, Institute for Middle East Peace and Development): They are not now concerned about maintaining Mubarak's power. They are very concerned about maintaining the legitimacy of the military among the people who are engaged in these demonstrations. They want to make sure that the structure of power in Egypt that keeps the state legitimate will not be damaged by what has happened.
GJELTEN: The role of the army in Egypt, Cohen says, is so central to the Egyptian state that if the people and the army are split, the state itself would lose its legitimacy. That could lead to chaos.
The bottom line here is that Mubarak seems to have lost the support of the Egyptian army. The military's high command today issued a statement saying it considered the demands of the street demonstrators to be, quote, "legitimate," unquote, and promising it would not use force against the people.
Meanwhile, Generals Suleiman and Tantawi have been working on a plan for a peaceful end to this popular uprising. Cohen says it involves two possible solutions. First, 100 members of the recently elected parliament would be replaced by a hundred new members from among candidates who were forced out of the last parliamentary election by government meddling. Beyond that, there could be new parliamentary and presidential elections. Cohen says Suleiman and Tantawi have been working on this plan in consultation both with the demonstrators and with Mubarak himself.
Dr. COHEN: They want to make sure that Mubarak is going to cooperate in giving up his presidency when they are ready to implement either of these two plans. And they are making sure that the hundred new members of parliament are people that would be approved by the demonstrators. And they are making sure that if there is a new election that would be an answer to the concerns of the people who have been engaging in the large demonstrations.
GJELTEN: And that, of course, is a big question. Would this proposal meet their demands? The demonstrators who took to the streets in Tunisia early this month were not satisfied with a simple change of leadership. They wanted much more sweeping change.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.
And, Tom, you're talking about negotiations. How can these generals negotiate with the demonstrators when the demonstrators don't appear to have a leader?
GJELTEN: It could actually make things easier, Robert. If there were a leader, he or she might demand the presidency as a prize for calling off the protests. There is no one in a position to do that. If a proposal like this were implemented, it could take enough energy out of the protests to bring the crisis to an end.
SIEGEL: Any indication of what the U.S. government would think of this proposal?
GJELTEN: They're being very careful not to say, Robert, but the U.S. interest is stability, stability in the region, stability in Egypt. There are few countries in the world more key to U.S. strategic interests than Egypt. And I think we could probably assume that if this proposal were to go forward, it would be welcomed by the Obama administration.
SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Tom.
GJELTEN: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.