Updated at 2:36 p.m. on February 13.
Egypt’s Supreme Military Council announced today that it will suspend the Egyptian constitution, dissolve the nation’s parliament, and run a transitional government overseeing the process of the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
How the military handles that transition will prove crucial to whether Egypt can emerge from the revolution of the past 19 days as a peaceful, stable democracy that retains ties to the U.S. and a peace treaty with Israel -- and to the future stability of the entire Middle East, U.S., Egyptian and Israeli officials said today.
Among the key concerns for the U.S. is the prospect that a transition could empower the Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, and that a new Egyptian government could vote to dismantle the country’s peace treaty with Israel.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and Egyptian opposition leader, said that the military must quickly reach out to the disparate civilian opposition groups and lay out a road map for transition to electing a new government within a year. Speaking on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, ElBaradei said that if the military doesn’t present a road map by Friday, protesters could return to the streets.
“I understand that the army might need some time, but they need to lay out what they are up to. We need clearly a transitional period. We need heavy participation by the civilians with the army. It could not be just the army running the show," he said.
“The opposition... clearly is fragmented after 60 years of oppression, but I think the opposition is all of one mind. We need to co-manage the transition.... We need to -- to reach within a year a country that is ready for free and fair election and to elect a president and a new parliament,” he said.
Egypt's ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, added that Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel will continue.
“Egypt is a country of institutions, and has always made it a point to honor its legal commitments,” he said on Fareed Zakaria GPS. “... The peace treaty has benefited Egypt, has benefited the region in terms of creating stability and peace and giving an opportunity for Egypt to concentrate on its development. It has been -- has been in the best interests of the Egyptian people.”
Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, who will be negotiating reform with the Egyptian military, said he will push to see elections as early as August.
“That's what my hope is -- that we don't have to wait that long,” he said. “There will be a transitional government. But... now the fact that the parliament has been let go, the key thing is now for the Egyptian people to get this referendum done, and then we go on with the election, which I anticipate, it should be before or about the summer.”
But in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham cautioned the Egyptians against moving to elections too soon, saying that the stakes are so high they shouldn’t be rushed.
“If we can pull this off, if the Egyptian people can create a democracy in the heart of the Arab world, it will be a more significant contribution to civilization than the great pyramids. It really will have a long-lasting effect,” said the South Carolina Republican, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union.
“I worry that we'll rush to an election where the Muslim Brotherhood, who is the most organized but doesn't represent the true will of the Egyptian people, will have a disproportionate effect. I worry about the army. Will the army hold together? Will the young officers accept the rule of the senior people? Will the army really subordinate itself to civilian control as this new democracy unfolds?”
He added, “This could be a good thing for the region or it could all fall apart. If it falls apart in Egypt, who knows where it ends, what kind of forces does it unleash in the Mideast. So you get one chance to get this right.... To the protesters, I know you have had a tremendous effect on the future of Egypt in the last 18 days. My advice would be to go slow, form political parties, take that energy that led to bringing this regime down and chart a brighter future that is based on religious tolerance and secular democracy. And those things are not certain yet, by any means.”
Also in Washington, Republican leaders offered mixed reviews of President Obama’s handing of the situation. On NBC’s Meet the Press, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said, “I think they've handled what is a very difficult situation about as well as it could be handled. We should always listen to those who are crying out for freedom and crying out for democracy.”
On Face the Nation, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said, “I think the president handled this situation well. I think that we need to get a transition that really understands that elections are not the answer. We have had election after election in places that have been meaningless. It is the apparatus. Is is the modalities. It’s all of the things that go into a free and fair election.”
But McCain and other Republicans expressed concern about U.S. intelligence and diplomatic operations, for missing signals on the unrest that triggered the revolutions -- and for sending mixed signals in recent days about the administration’s support for Mubarak.
“We should have seen this coming when the Egyptian government failed to move forward with a process of democratization,” said McCain. “The last election was particularly flawed. By the way, Madeleine Albright, the head of [the National Democratic Institute], and the head of [the International Republican Institute], had called for observers. Russ Feingold and I had a resolution in support of human rights in Egypt. So a lot of this should have been seen.”
Meanwhile, former House speaker and possible 2012 presidential contender Newt Gingrich slammed President Obama’s response to the events in Egypt, calling it "timid, confused, and amazingly amateurish.” Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Gingrich said Obama should have kept quiet publicly and privately advised Mubarak to step down.
But, he added, “our focus shouldn't be on Obama. Our focus ought to be, what can America do now to make sure the military doesn't impose a new dictatorship for another 30 or 40 years? And how do we, on the other hand, make sure that you don't end up with a Muslim Brotherhood staging a coup at some point over a three- or four- or five-year period?”
Gingrich said that as the Egyptian military guides the transition in government, the U.S. should consider using the leverage of its current $1.5 billion in military aid, as well as shifting foreign aid.
“You communicate you may pull part of it. You may -- it may suddenly get a lot slower. You may -- you may not approve certain kind of activities.”
But he added, “We shouldn't kid ourselves. Egypt has been a staging area for us for a long time now. And Egypt has been vital to Israeli security. And so I think you -- you -- but I think we should be pressuring everywhere -- and I want to repeat -- including China, including Russia, including Cuba. We should be pushing steadily and saying, you know, America stands for freedom.”
He added, “I would certainly look at rethinking the current foreign aid program and shifting a great deal more out of government bureaucracies into NGOs and, frankly, into investments.”