The end of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt portends fundamental change throughout the Middle East and the end of the American era in the region. Mubarak was the archetype authoritarian that Washington has relied upon to help maintain a regional political order that made it relatively easy to exercise American power. The Egyptian strongman kept the peace with Israel, the Suez Canal open, and the Islamists down. If he was often brutal without being repressive in the ways of Iraq's Saddam Hussein or the late Syrian leader, Hafiz al Assad, all the better. Mubarak's disdain for his people, who never much liked the regime's alignment with the United States—and by association, Israel—was hardly troublesome to Washington in light of the strategic benefits the Egyptian leader provided. The logic of U.S.-Middle East policy has run into the hard realities of political alienation, limited economic opportunities, and raw anger at the corruption and arrogance of Washington's allies.
It is no wonder that the Obama administration is struggling with a response to the Egyptian revolution. Without Mubarak and Egypt, Washington is left with the mercurial Saudis—who, while enjoying the umbrella of American security, enable extremist ideologies that threaten the United States—a weak Jordan, the small Gulf states, Morocco, which is on the edge of the Arab world, and Israel. This ragtag lot of allies hardly inspires awe. The changes coming to Egypt have important consequences, though not necessarily in ways that American officials and the news media seem to be worried about, including the rise of Islamists or the abrogation of peace with Israel. Both are good story angles and should not be totally dismissed, but there are more fundamental changes in the offing.