Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he is “fed up” with being president and would leave now.
But, in a just-completed 30 minute interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, the octogenarian autocrat said he fears his departure would throw his country into chaos.
I’ve just left the presidential palace in Cairo where I met for about 30 minutes with president Mubarak. He told me that he is troubled by the violence we have seen in Tahrir Square over the last few days but that his government is not responsible for it. Instead, he blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political party here in Egypt.
He said he’s fed up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot, he says, for fear that the country would sink into chaos.
The obvious comeback question here for Amanpour would be, “Have you looked outside your windows lately?”
It’s Mubarak’s refusal to leave immediately, along with his decision to unleash government sponsored “pro-Mubarak” thugs, that has turned a jubilant non violent throng into a civil war, as our reporter on the ground in Cairo makes clear in this report:
In Cairo, the talk is no longer of food, jobs or even bread—things the protestors were demanding on the early days of the demonstrations. It is now about the need to topple the Egyptian President, the former army commander who has for three decades suppressed the people and rendered the masses incapable of putting food on their tables, despite claims to the contrary by Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who heads the influential Policies Committee in the ruling party and his coterie of western-educated economists.
President Obama and the Western allies need to take advantage of Mubarak’s stated desire and help him figure out a face-saving exit plan.
In the meantime, Egypt’s neighbor Israel needs to do a 180 on its response to the uprising and actually embrace the masses. The best advice on this comes from Israel’s smartest statesman, Shlomo Avineri, writing in Haaretz. He calls on PM Netanyahu to direct his next speech not to the West, but to the Egyptians:
Despite the existing uncertainty, the prime minister of Israel must address the Egyptian people in a directly, saying something to this effect:
“I turn to you, the Egyptian people, as the prime minister of Israel, who was democratically elected. For the past 32 years peace has prevailed between our two states, following the historic visit of your late president Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem and his speech in the Knesset. After years of wars the border between us is now peaceful. The leaders of Egypt and Israel chose the course of peace and made difficult concessions to ensure both nations a possibility of properity, economic development and a dignified existence. This peace of the brave is a strategic and ideological interest of both nations and we are committed to honor it, preserve it and develop it.
“The Israeli people, some 20 percent of which are Arab, want the Egyptian people’s good and will respect any decision regarding Egypt’s internal regime. That is your decision and we have no intention of interfering with your sovereign right to shape it. We hope that as peace was preserved in the past 30 years, the historic achievements it entails will be preserved in the future as well.
“Regrettably we haven’t reached an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors yet. As I said in my speech at Bar-Ilan University, Israel in my leadership is committed to the solution of two states for two peoples. I have called on the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to open negotiations over all the controversial issues immediately and without preconditions. To our regret, even the president of the United States failed to bring the two sides to the negotiation table.
“At this time it is more important than ever to solve the conflict and I repeat my call to the Palestinian Authority and its leaders to open immediate negotiations on all the issues. Opening such talks and reaching an agreement - which in my opinion and the opinion of the Palestinian Authority chairman can be achieved in a relatively short period - will contribute to the region’s stability and to the peace of all the nations and states. We have difficult points of disagreement, but we are ready to deal with them sincerely and preserving both nations’ legitimate rights and interests. We hope the Egyptian people and government support these efforts and encourage the Palestinian Authority to open negotiations.
“I would like to promise you that Israel is interested in good neighborly relations, based on mutual recognition and mutual respect of all the states and sees in peace with Egypt - the largest, leading Arab state - a cornerstone for the entire region’s prosperity and development.”
Avinieri admits the current chaos doesn’t guarantee such a speech will work, but you can be sure standing by a defeated and hated dictator isn’t a recipe for success either.