Over the course of the two-week-old protests in Egypt, the American media has been consumed with debate over how the U.S. government should react. An emerging consensus across the political spectrum argues that President Barack Obama should support the protesters' demand that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resign immediately. This view was prominently expressed in an open letter to Obama by dozens of well-known scholars of Middle East politics, who advised him to essentially abandon 30 years of strong support for the Mubarak regime by throwing in America's lot with the protest movement.
Such a step would not clearly serve American interests and has too many potential negative repercussions. Instead, the U.S. should quietly but forcefully encourage the Mubarak regime to follow through with its commitments to reform, while making clear that the U.S. will continue to support it in the run-up to next September's presidential election.
First, there are too many unknowns about where the Egyptian people as a whole stand to justify reversing 30 years of policy. Without question, the protests have shown that most Egyptians want reform, although it remains vaguely defined, and some of the most vocal protesters want Mubarak to resign immediately. Beyond that, however, the situation is unclear. If at the high point of the protests 1 million people filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, on most days the turnout was significantly less. Many of those who stayed at home are probably as opposed to Mubarak as the protesters, but it's also clear that a significant number of Egyptians continue to support him. There simply is not enough evidence to suggest that the protesters' demand that Mubarak leave office immediately represents a majority opinion.