President Hosni Mubarek has found himself the center of attention over the past few days. For almost 30 years, the country has been under the slowly-tightening grip of Mubarek's power-drunk regime, unable to hold elections without major fraud and manipulation yet seeing the gap between poor and rich grow insurmountable. But now, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the street in Cairo and several other large cities, with the chief demand of Mubarek's resignation.
Mubarek has yet to step down, though he has committed to dismantling his government and replacing them with more of his top allies.
Inspired by the Tunisian populace's success in getting their strongman president to flee the country, the Egyptian people have not let down in more than 6 days of demonstrations. And, with an inept, hothead police system, and an army that is at best neutral in the conflict, Mubarek has little to defend himself, save his international allies.
WHY DO WE CARE?
If Mubarek is driven out, a power vacuum will quickly take his place, with several factions struggling to get a foothold at the top. Several of these are secular, as the protests have been, and thus could indeed be a great step forward for Egypt if they can get enough attention leading up to the elections. There is at least one faction, though, with the religious fervor and fundamentalist rhetoric that could actually win an election: the Muslim Brotherhood.
When power vacuums spring up, they are usually filled by the most rabid candidate, the one who can get his base the most riled up. We saw this in the U.S. with the leaderless Republican Party from 2009-2010, where the Tea Party used its easily-quoted hard-right viewpoints to win dozens of elections.
In Egypt, most parties have little rhetoric, and fractured bases. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, has a readily-stated party line (Anti-Israel, Anti-Western meddling), a structure based on the religion of 90% of the people, and the advantage of being able to promote a drastic shift from the secular policies of the past.
Luckily for its opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood currently has the support of only a tiny fraction of the Egyptian electorate. But, as we saw in the U.S., a tiny sliver of support can quickly grow to a winning advantage if given the opportunity.
President Obama has toed the line on this issue thus far, never going so far as to call for the ousting of Mubarek, but also never going so far as to say that the people should cease their protests. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the administration's best hope is for a quick and peaceful transition to a new government that somehow maintains the foreign policies of the past while incorporating revolutionary domestic policies that satisfy the majority of the Egyptian people.