Twitter and other more “traditional” news-gathering operations have blown up over the past hour with reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is yielding to the inevitable and departing office. More specifically, it looks like the military—which even now remains a respected institution—is grasping the reins, saying it is taking “necessary measures to protect the nation and support the legitimate demands of the people.” The secretary general of Mubarak’s nominal political party (which he resigned from several days ago) announced that the president will address the nation soon and likely step down; CIA chief Leon Panetta predicts same. Reuters says Mubarak and his staff are flying to Sharm-el-Sheikh, in the Sinai.
Who is taking over in his stead? Good question! And if somebody tells you right now that they know, you go ahead and tell them right back but they’re lying! But here are (some of) the possibilities:
• Omar Suleiman. I mean, that’s got to be the easy money: He is currently the vice president, he is widely trusted and respected by international actors, he is wily and connected. The trouble is that because he is (rightfully) associated with Mubarak, his ascension is not likely to satisfy the protesters, and satisfying the protesters appears to be the whole point of the “Mubarak out, military reasserting control” exercise.
• Sami Anan. The army chief of general staff, he was at the meeting with Mubarak’s defense minister in which negotiations over the military’s role were being conducted; neither Mubarak nor, tellingly, Suleiman was present. If we’re about to see a true military takeover, then bet on him.
• Military-led transition to democracy. “Mission accomplished,” tweeted Wael Ghonim, the Google employee who has become the protesters’ popular figurehead and spokesperson, earlier today. “Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.” Hard to believe he would feel that way if Mubarak were leaving only to be replaced by another strongman, whether it’s Suleiman or a general.
• Someone we haven’t heard of. Probably from within the army. Somebody with a strong base of support within the army, perhaps. Maybe somebody secular? Maybe somebody, y’know, not secular? You are going to want to stay tuned.