The Obama administration on Saturday formally threw its weight behind a gradual transition in Egypt, backing attempts by the country’s vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to broker a compromise with opposition groups and prepare for new elections in September.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to a conference here, said it was important to support Mr. Suleiman as he seeks to defuse street protests and promises to reach out to opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Administration officials said earlier that Mr. Suleiman and other military-backed leaders in Egypt are also considering ways to provide President Hosni Mubarak with a graceful exit from power.
“That takes some time,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”
Her message, echoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, was a notable shift in tone from the past week, when President Obama, faced with violent clashes in Cairo, demanded that Mr. Mubarak make swift, dramatic changes.
Now, the United States and other Western powers appear to have concluded that the best path for Egypt — and certainly the safest one, to avoid further chaos — is a gradual transition, managed by Mr. Suleiman, a pillar of Egypt’s existing establishment, and backed by the military.
It's a good plan, certainly better than months of chaos with Mubarak at the helm. The question is will Suleiman be any better?
My answer is "no".
The intelligence chief tapped by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as his vice president and potential successor aided the U.S. with its rendition program, intelligence experts told ABC News, and oversaw the torture of an Al Qaeda suspect whose information helped justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In the midst of Egypt's protests, Omar Suleiman went on television Monday to say that President Mubarak had ordered him to launch reforms and begin talking to opposition parties. But for the U.S., the CIA, Israel, and Egypt's Islamist opposition, 74-year-old Suleiman, who has been the head of Egyptian intelligence since 1993, represents a continuation of the policies of the old regime.
"Mubarak and Suleiman are the same person," said Emile Nakhleh, a former top Middle East analyst for the CIA. "They are not two different people in terms of ideology and reform."
And I'm pretty sure the people aren't going to be terribly excited about Suleiman being in charge, either. Should this backfire and the Egyptian people see this as the US replacing one dictator with another, things are going to go very, very badly. All indications are this guy is as rotten as Mubarak is.
The other choice is Mohamed Elbaradei, and there are a number of questions about him as well. He has a Nobel Peace Prize and headed the UN's nuclear watchdog agency for a time, but many on the right think he's just a puppet for the Muslim Brotherhood, and Republicans will make all sorts of trouble for him if he's in charge.
Either way, American-Egyptian relations aren't going to improve anytime soon.