Many Western and Middle East observers were astonished to hear US President Barak Obama's special envoy Frank Wisner insisting that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stay after all to steer changes after twelve days of Washington-backed protests failed to unseat him.
He spoke Saturday, Feb. 5, by video to the Munich Security Conference, at which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the opposite view. debkafile's Washington sources report that just as divisions between the anti- and pro-Mubarak camps deepen in Cairo, so too is criticism mounting in Washington over the US president's tactics on the turbulence in Egypt.
Whereas Obama and Clinton have been pushing hard for the Egyptian president to quit and the transition of power begin without him, Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt, asserted: "Mubarak had give 60 years of his life to the service of his country, this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward."
He stressed: "We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president must stay in office to steer those changes." Obama's special envoy insisted: "Mr. Mubarak's role remains critical in the days ahead,"
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded: "We have great respect for Frank Wisner … but his views are his own and not coordinated with the US government.
Wisner was sent by President Obama to Cairo last Monday, Jan. 31, at a climactic moment of the wave of protests against Mubarak, to urge the embattled Egyptian president to make haste and resign. This Mubarak has declined to do to this day, consenting only to leave after his current term is up in September.
In Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered a wry comment on Wisner's words: "One thing is clear. No transition is taking place in Egypt," she said, implying that Obama's policy of foisting change on the regime in Cairo was not working.
Some of the conference participants had in fact received the impression that the harder Washington pushed for the Egyptian president to leave, the more stubbornly he clung to office. His last word to was that his departure now would plunge Egypt into chaos.
Vice President Omar Suleiman, shortly after he was sworn into office by Mubarak, went on state TV Thursday, Feb. 3, with strong criticism of "foreign elements" who, he said, when they fail to make us obey their orders, "incite the people against us." Egypt would not permit even friendly powers to interfere in its domestic affairs, he said – a view shared by much of the people.
Some sources in Washington are of the opinion that the continuing standoff in Egypt and its potential for exploding into civil strife, or sliding into a long and bloody war of attrition between the opponents of Mubarak's regime and its supporters, is partly the fault of the system of pressures the White House has being applying for a quick resolution.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, appeared to agree on this but in an interview Saturday she blamed US intelligence agencies for failing to give the policymakers "timely intelligence analysis." In the senator's view, “The president, the secretary of state and the Congress are making policy decisions on Egypt" for which they lack the appropriate intelligence tools.
Some Washington sources suggested that Wisner's words were a pointer to a White House flip flop in its policy on Egypt in view of the clear impression that it had missed its mark and the rising criticism in Washington.
Mubarak, who remains in the saddle, has begun instituting what Wisner called "the fragile glimmerings" of change in Egypt. Sunday, Feb. 5, after the Muslim Brotherhood changed its mind and joined the dialogue on change to which the regime had invited opposition parties, agreement was achieved to form a constitutional reform panel with opposition participation.