Who Is Waiting to Take Over in Egypt?

VIDEO: How Will the Conflict in Egypt Impact America

What's going on in Egypt?

Following protests in neighboring Tunisia, Egyptians took to the streets today for the seventh day of demonstrations. Angered over corruption, unemployment, poverty and decades of political repression, protesters are calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, an autocrat who took power in 1981. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, primarily in downtown Cairo, and dozens have been killed in clashes with the police. Organizers hope to marshal 1 million on the streets Tuesday in a show of anger that will force Mubarak to quit.

For Complete Coverage of the Crisis in Egypt, Featuring Exclusive Reporting From Christiane Amanpour, Click Here

Why is Egypt important to the U.S.?

Egypt under Mubarak has been a staunch U.S. ally and a critical point of transit for much of the world's oil. Millions of barrels of oil travel from the Middle East through the Suez Canal and a massive pipeline every day. Diplomatically, Egypt is one of two Arab countries that recognizes Israel and has helped broker peace deals. Mubarak's government has also been a close U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, and any regional instability could be dangerous to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

What's the U.S. position on the protests?

Despite U.S. calls for increased democracy in the Middle East, American presidents have supported Mubarak for 30 years. Egypt receives over $1 billion in U.S. military aid annually, second only to Israel. Mubarak has warned that allowing free elections would open the door to Islamist parties, like the influential Muslim Brotherhood, from taking control and turning the country into a fundamentalist state.

President Obama has not outwardly called for Mubarak to step down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also treaded lightly, called for an "orderly transition."

What is Mubarak doing about the demonstrations?

Early on in the protests, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and mobile phone networks, and police patrolled the streets sometimes clashing with protesters by firing tear gas and using their truncheons. Last week the army, a respected Egyptian institution, replaced the police in the streets, and many protesters thought it signaled a shift. Instead, the police returned and protests continued.

After three days of protests, Mubarak addressed the country on television. He fired his cabinet, called for an end to the protests and promised unspecific reforms. For the first time in three decades, Mubarak named a vice president, former the head of the country's intelligence service Omar Suleiman.

Nevertheless, the situation on the ground has worsened as the protesters have been joined on the streets by looters who even tried to steal antiquities from the country's prized museum.

Who will determine the future of Egypt?

Some suspect, Mubarak handpicked a vice president last week to ensure a smooth transition to someone he knew would be sympathetic.

Omar Suleiman, the former head of the intelligence service, was influential in negotiating secret deals between Israel and the Palestinians and is known as an effective communicator. He is familiar with the halls of power both in Washington and in Israel.

Omar Suleiman

The new vice president announced today that he is organizing new elections in the coming weeks.

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