Mubarak's 'speech from the heart': A heartbreaker

As you've no doubt already seen, President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down in his latest speech to the Egyptian people:

Mubarak announced that he had put into place a framework that would lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles in the address late on Thursday night.

"I can not and will not accept to be dictater orders from outside, no matter what the source is," Mubarak said.

He said he was addressing his people with a "speech from the heart"

Three quick thoughts:

  • A lot of people were clearly out of the loop. Army commander Hassan al-Roweni told the crowd in Tahrir Square this morning that "everything you want will be realised"? CIA Director Leon Panetta was also confident enough to tell congress today that there was a "strong likelihood" of Mubarak's departure this evening. At what point during the day did Mubarak change his mind?
  • What exactly was the point of this? Friday was already predicted to be the biggest street demonstrations yet, but the crowds have been fairly good-natured. If Mubarak just wants to see if he can wait out the protesters, he should have just kept his mouth shut. You can expect a lot more hostility from the demonstrators after being disappointed so brutally tonight.
  • If the military really had been contemplating an anti-Mubarak coup, he just gave them a great pretext for it.

In any event, be sure to check out Blake's exclusive interview with Mohamed ElBaradei from earlier today.  Even before Mubarak's announcement,he seemed appropriately skeptical:

FP: So you don't have any confidence that [Vice President Omar Suleiman] can be the steward of a democratic transition?

MB: No. I don't have any confidence. The process is completely faulty, the way I see it. They don't understand, let alone are willing to move Egypt into democracy, unless we keep kicking their behinds.

And that's what happened. You saw Mubarak's first statement was saying, "We'll give you a new government" -- same old, worn-out tactics. A new government but no change of policy and the same people from his own party. They were kicked out and they said they would change the Constitution to allow more people to run. They got kicked out again and then they would say, "Well, Mubarak will not run." Then they abolished the whole leadership of the party.

It is not the sign of a regime, or whatever's left of it, that is ready to buy into real change. They are talking, again, to the established parties who have no influence, have no credibility in the street, most of them. The people who staged that revolution are not sitting around the table. The young people are not sitting around the table.

Check out the whole thing


Why the White House is not going to use the word 'coup'

Earlier today, the Egyptian military announced that it had taken "necessary measures to protect the nation and support the legitimate demands of the people." It appears more and more likely that President Hosni Mubarak will leave power tonight, leaving many observers to label the current situation a military coup.

CNN at the moment is quoting a senior military official denying the characterization, but one thing is definitely for sure: You're unlikely to hear the word coup from President Obama or any other senior administration official. (The president just spoke in Northern Michigan calling for an "orderly and genuine transition to democracy.")

As I wrote in an Explainer last April following the ouster of the government of Kyrgyzstan, the word coup carries some fairly heavy legal ramifications. Section 508 of the Foreign Operations and Appropriations Act states that U.S. financial assistance is prohibited to "any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by decree or military coup." Aid can only be restored once the State Department can certify that democratic governance has been restored -- often a tough standard to meet.

Section 508 has been applied a number of times -- in Cote d'Ivoire in 1999 and Fiji in 2006, for instance. But it has also led to a reluctance by U.S. officials to describe government takeovers as coups. This was on full display following the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009.  

Of course, Egypt is a whole different beast -- the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid. But it's hard to imagine the administration would paint itself into a corner by uttering the word "coup," no matter what happens in the days to come.