The massive revolt shaking the largest Arab nation took European capitals and Washington by surprise. On the second day of the demonstrations against the dictator, Hosni Mubarak, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said calmly, "We are monitoring the situation," adding, "We believe that it is stable."*
For decades, Egypt has been a leading recipient of economic aid from the United States — surpassed only by Israel. In recent years, Cairo has received $1.55 billion, of which the bulk, $1.3 billion, has been earmarked for military purposes, or if you will, to ensure the status quo — and only $250 million to fund social programs. What was the rationale for such a distribution?
Since its peace agreement with Israel, Egypt has faced no military threats. The greatest problems of the country are its poverty and exclusion. Nevertheless, the military has, in an indirect way, held power since overthrowing the monarchy in 1952. This did not prevent Clinton from affirming, "We have urged Mubarak to undertake reforms."* Poor results for the billions of dollars invested, if it was for reforms.
Now, in a matter of days, the language has changed. The millions of Egyptians who were invisible for 30 years are now on the streets, and their voices are being heard.
The State Department calls for "a transition of power" and asks to hear "the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people." This last phrase is the same used by the army, in declaring that it will not fire against its countrymen. The addition of tanks to the streets did not achieve the intimidating effect that was desired, thus, canceling force as a solution.
The only thing left now is political negotiation. Here the regime has the advantage, because it faces a scattered opposition with one common goal: regime change. Beyond that, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that represents between 20 to 30 percent of the electorate, has its own goals, as does the kaleidoscope of secular parties.
In any case, at the moment, Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stands as the best option for a transition government to convene the elections scheduled for September.
I had the opportunity to interview ElBaradei during one of his visits to Chile, and I was struck by his direct language on issues that diplomats often overlook. In particular, he raised doubts about the U.S. allegations regarding the alleged plans of Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon.
ElBaradei, like his predecessor from Sweden, Hans Blix, never believed in the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These views explain the extreme caution with which Washington observes his emerging leadership. The outcome of Egyptian drama is in full swing. But something has already changed: The citizens have recovered their own leadership.
*Editor’s Note: Hillary Clinton’s quotes, accurately translated, could not be verified.