With Mubarak on His Way Out, U.S. Must Do No Harm, Conservative Analysts Say

By Matt Cover | February 1, 2011 | 5:27 AM EST

President Obama talks on the phone with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the Oval Office on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. Vice President Joe Biden listens at left, and the President’s National Security team confer in the background. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(CNSNews.com) The crisis in Egypt probably will result in the fall of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, conservative foreign policy experts say. Given that scenario, the United States must work for a peaceful transition of power and prevent the radical Muslim Brotherhood from taking over.

With the political crisis entering its second week, Mubarak’s reign looks more tenuous than ever, as both the internal security forces and the regular army have failed to disperse the thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters flooding the streets of Egypt’s major cities.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNSNews.com that the Obama administration must deal with the fact that in any case, Mubarak will not lead Egypt for long:

“Lesson one is that if we kick the can down the road for too long, eventually the road runs out,” Rubin said. “Even in the best of times, 82-year-old dictators tend not to live that long.”

Rubin said that the “worst-case scenario” would be a takeover by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. The most likely scenario, he added, rests with the Egyptian army:  “What I would see as more likely would be the Army stepping in and then having a transitional government until the September 2011 elections.”

Rubin warned that while a transitional government may be the most likely outcome in the short term, the Muslim Brotherhood may bide its time, waiting until the protests die down to maneuver for power. The Brotherhood undoubtedly is eyeing Mubarak’s sizeable fortune as well, he said.

“When we look at the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it didn’t happen in a day and it didn’t turn anti-American in a day,” Rubin explained. “There was nine months between when Khomeini returned and when the American embassy was seized. One of the big, populist points that the Iranians made was for the return of the Shah’s assets, and that really became an engine for anti-Americanism.”

Likewise, Rubin noted that Mubarak has amassed a lot of money. He described that fortune as a $25 billion time bomb, “waiting to go off.”

“Are we prepared -- and is Europe prepared -- for the demands which are inevitable that that $25 billion get returned? And that could really become an engine for the Muslim Brotherhood to rally people around.”

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, echoed Rubin’s concern about the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that the U.S. should first work to keep the situation from getting worse.

“I think we ought to try to avoid doing any harm,” Gaffney said. “The first thing to do is understand what’s going on, which I think certainly a number of folks – including some conservatives – have not got right.”

Gaffney argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is the driving force behind the Egyptian uprisings and that they would soon “assert themselves” once the public furor subsides.

“I think the Brotherhood is deeply involved already and that they will in relatively short order assert themselves as the dominant force in a post-Mubarak Egypt.”

Heritage Foundation Middle East scholar James Phillips said it would be a mistake for the U.S. to count out Mubarak too soon, before a transition plan is in place:

“We can’t micro-control what’s going on, and I think it would be a mistake to pull the rug out from underneath President Mubarak until it’s clear that there is some kind of agreement going forward on how to engineer a transition that would favor sustainable freedom in Egypt and not just the ‘one man, one vote, one time’ [scenario] if the Islamists take over.”

Phillips said the Obama administration should work “behind the scenes” to ensure a peaceful transition to a free society for Egyptians.

“I think it should be done as part of a deal that helps ensure a successful transition to freedom. You can’t just turn against him [Mubarak] because for one thing, that will make all our other allies in the Arab World nervous that we’ll just drop them if it gets too difficult.

“Most importantly, I think if the Obama administration decides tomorrow to publicly call for Mubarak to leave, then the next day or probably even that day with the state of communications I think the protests would become much more violent.”