Commentary: For Egypt, free and fair elections are the only peaceful option

The Miami HeraldFebruary 1, 2011 

The political upheaval that began in Tunisia a few weeks ago has reached the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, pillars of the Arab world, with the potential to scramble the politics of the Middle East. The old order appears to be crumbling, putting into play the future of the most volatile region on the globe and creating a major test for American diplomacy and the Obama administration.

Egypt is the linchpin of Mideast geopolitics. It has long been a chief beneficiary of American military and economic aid because it has the largest population in the Arab world and radiates influence across the Islamic Crescent of nations.

Under President Mubarak, it has been a bulwark against fundamentalist terrorism, a peacemaker with Israel, and an indispensable U.S. military ally, guarantor of access to the vital Suez Canal. In short, Egypt matters, not only to Washington but to every country with a stake in the future of the Middle East.

With events moving swiftly, the outcome uncertain and consequences unpredictable, policymakers must avoid the missteps that have too often characterized U.S. policy in the region.

• The ouster of Mr. Mubarak is not a foregone conclusion, but his hold on power appears increasingly shaky.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Egypt remained a stable country, but on Sunday she wisely and pointedly refused to reaffirm that view. The switch, along with references to ``an orderly transition,'' signals Washington's grasp of Egypt's reality. With the odds against Mr. Mubarak, Washington cannot afford to be seen as an unconditional ally of an autocratic regime. The will of Egypt's people has to be respected.

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