It was a momentous day in the modern history of the Middle East -- pro-democracy protesters peacefully forced out the man who had ruled them with an iron fist for 30 years. A day after clinging to power in a speech that enraged many Egyptians and threatened to set the stage for bloody confrontation, President Hosni Mubarak wisely stepped aside Friday and gave all his powers to a military council.
But it is far from certain whether the jubilation in the streets of Cairo is justified, or premature.
It is far from certain that Egypt will peacefully transition to a genuine democratic government. If it doesn't, that poses immense dangers to U.S. interests, as well as the Egyptian people.
After all, what happened Friday was in part a military coup, if a bloodless one. And while the Egyptian military has been mostly supportive of the demonstrators and restrained in using force so far, there's no guarantee going forward.
As President Barack Obama correctly said, Mubarak's exit is not the end of Egypt's transition, but the beginning. There are many crucial unanswered questions, he said, but "I am confident the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully."
While the Egyptian people should decide their own destiny, the United States can play a constructive role. In coordination with other nations, we can help ease the path to free and fair elections and cement Egypt's good relations with the West along the way.
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