Although Saudi King Abdullah warned Barack Obama not to push Mubarak over the edge, according to reports by the Times of London, CIA director Leon Panetta believed the Egyptian president would step down.
Just a few minutes ago, the New York Times reported that Mubarak refused to step down. Not only did the speech prove U.S. estimates wrong, it casts doubt over whether their game plan was ever working at all.
Even as Mr. Mubarak spoke, angry chants were shouted from huge crowds in Cairo who had anticipated his resignation but were instead confronted with a plea from the president to support continued rule by him and his chosen aides. People waved their shoes in defiance, considered an insulting gesture in the Arab world.
This followed warnings from Saudi Arabia that it would act forcefully to nullify any pressure that the U.S. president would bring to bear on Mubarak as the king read Obama the riot act. The Times of London earlier reported:
In a testy telephone call on January 29, King Abdullah told the US President not to humiliate Mr Mubarak and said the Egyptian leader should be allowed to stay on to oversee the transition towards democracy and then to leave with dignity, The Times of London reported yesterday. King Abdullah threatened to step in with funding for Egypt if the US withdrew its $US1.5 billion ($1.47bn) a year aid program.
Now, with Mubarak thumbing his nose at the president, the Obama administration may manage to achieve what only few governments in history have done: alienate their enemies as well as their friends. Worse, Obama’s actions have regionalized the Egyptian conflict. KSA has belayed Mubarak on the sheer cliff that he dangles from. It has forced a public confrontation between Mubarak and his regional allies and the unrest sweeping the Arab world. If Mubarak goes spinning into the abyss, the House of Saud will find itself pulled right after it.
The narrative is set. One the one side are the aging Sunni autocrats, on the other side are the Shi’ite autocrats who are in an alliance of convenience with protesters in Egypt. And on both sides, like a ping-pong ball being swatted back and forth, is President Obama, as noisy and nearly as comical.
Whatever happens next is fraught with peril for Washington. If Mubarak survives, it will have been in spite of Obama, and the influence of Washington over its Sunni allies will have fallen to unplumbed depths as the old strongmen openly defy the former Strong Horse in Washington. If Mubarak is overthrown, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran will have scored a signal triumph and threaten to set the dominoes to falling. Either way Washington’s diplomatic position in the region will be in a shambles.