Time has already run out on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Time is about to run out on American President Barack Obama to be on the right side of history.
With the Egyptian Army refusing to fire on millions of demonstrators filling the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities demanding Mubarak's immediate departure, it's increasingly clear that Mubarak cannot survive for more than a few more days.
The question is will the overwhelming majority of Egyptians demanding Mubarak's immediate departure see America as a friend of their democratic revolution or a friend of Mubarak's efforts to maintain power by proposing small scale reforms in his corrupt and dictatorial regime?
Barack Obama's natural tendency in most things is to try to find the center and split the difference between opposing tendencies, whether it's between liberals and conservatives at the Harvard Law Review or in the US Congress, or the between Egyptian street and the Egyptian government. But in the midst of a popular revolution, to quote Yeats, "the center cannot hold".
Simply calling on Mubarak not to run for reelection -- as it was reported a few minutes ago that Obama has done -- will not do the trick in demonstrating to the Egyptian people demanding Mubarak's immediate departure from the country that America stands with them.
There is little the United States can do to control the outcome of a spontaneous popular revolution. And of course there's the fear that the fall of Mubarak, like the fall of the American-backed Shah of Iran, could result in a radical Islamist government (as well as the fear that America's other friends among Middle East dictatorships like those in Saudi Arabia and Jordan would see it as a betrayal). But a fundamentalist regime is less likely in Egypt than Iran -- Polls show only about 20% of Egyptians support the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, although like the Bolsheviks in revolutionary Russia, the Muslim Brotherhood may be the most organized and disciplined opposition force, even as the street demonstrations, led by a new generation of tech savvy youth, has outrun the Muslim Brotherhood. The best chance for preventing a new Egypt dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood is probably the rapid creation of a transitional government of national unity--which would include the Muslim Brotherhood as well as more secular opposition groups--leading quickly to free and fair multi-party elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood receives a minority of votes and is perhaps one party in a coalition government.
In any case, there's a limited amount that the US can do to bring about any particular political result in Egypt. And it's unlikely a new Egyptian government will be as friendly to America as the Mubarak dictatorship.
But if there's any hope that the new government will not be hostile to America (and Israel), then Obama can't wait even another day to make clear that the American government and the American people stand with the Egyptian people in their call to immediately end the Mubarak dictatorship and for Mubarak to leave Egypt.
UPDATE: Mubarak's announcement a little while ago that he will not seek reelection in September, as he was apparently urged to do earlier today by Obama's special envoy, changes nothing in the equation. The Egyptian people are not demanding that Mubarak stay in power until next September and that his regime supervise new elections in which he would not run. That would simply result in massive fraud such as happened in the 2010 elections for the Egyptian Parliament's upper house in which Mubarak's party "won" 84 out of 88 seats. The Egyptian people are demanding that Mubarak step down and leave the country immediately and turn the country over to a transitional government of national unity that would then hold new elections under a new constitution and with international guarantees that the elections would be free and fair. Obama's request, and Mubarak's agreement, that he not run again is way too little, too late. Obama must support the Egyptian people in their demand that Mubarak immediately resign and leave the country.
UPDATE 2: OBAMAS NEW STATEMENT FALLS SHORT.
As the TV screen showed pictures of Egyptian demonstraters shaking their shoes at Mubarak's statement that he would not leave Egypt and would stay in power until next September when elections (in which he said he would not run) are scheduled, President Obama went on TV to make a vague statement that he supports a peaceful transition starting now. Obama is still trying to stand in the center between Mubarak and the Egyptian people. It's not enough. If Obama doesn't stand with the Egyptian people in their calls for Mubarak's immediate departure, the demonstrators may soon be shaking their shoes at the United States.