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updated 2/2/2011 9:56:10 AM ET 2011-02-02T14:56:10

The protests rocking Egypt could change the political landscape of the all the Arab countries and beyond. Possible outcomes range from pro-democracy forces taking charge in Cairo to, in a worst case, an all-out war that brought in Israel and Iran.

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In between, there could be a long period of instability that could breed economic chaos across the region and derail economic recoveries in the United States and Europe.

In Cairo, embattled President Hosni Mubarak declared to his nation in a televised address Tuesday night that he would not stand for re-election but would not leave office either, determined to stay in power until elections in September. Mubarak did not to rule out his son as a candidate.

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Later, President Barack Obama talked by phone to Mubarak for 30 minutes and said in brief remarks at the White House that the Egyptian leader "recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place."

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But, Obama emphasized, he indicated directly to Mubarak that it "is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now." That appeared to imply that the president was not particularly enthusiastic about Mubarak's decision to wait until September.

Mubarak made his halfway concession as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered in a major square in Cairo to demand an end to his 30-year rule.

The doomsday scenario for the U.S.
Egypt, the world's largest Arab nation, is critically important to U.S. foreign policy and to major goals the Obama administration is pursuing in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, containment of Iran's influence and alleged nuclear ambitions, counterterrorism.

Story: U.S., caught off guard by Egypt, tries balancing act

"Right now you've got a thousand people in government writing policy memos trying to figure out what's going on," said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Mideast peacemaker who is now at the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank. "The three-option memo is standard. Option one is Armageddon. The world is falling apart. American interests will be completely threatened

"The third option is: Don't worry, boss, this isn't such a big deal.

"It's the middle option, with respect to American interests, that we have to pay serious attention to," Miller said.

The worst case envisions a rise in extremist Muslim factions in Egypt, Tunisia and even Jordan. The Suez Canal and an adjacent pipeline could be closed, the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord renounced, the U.S.-Egyptian diplomatic and military relationship ended.

Video: Williams: Egypt demonstrations happening 'before our eyes'

Iran could move in to fill the vacuum. That could trigger war between Israel and Iran, perhaps involving nuclear weapons. American influence throughout the region would be greatly diminished.

Most Middle East experts and analysts do not think such a doomsday scenario will happen, particularly with encouraging signs of a peaceful transfer of power in Egypt and with the so-far nonviolent nature of the demonstrations.

There's no return to the status quo
But there still are many signs of stress and potential problems ahead. And, it is clear, there will be no return to the status quo: The U.S. role in the Middle East has probably been altered forever.

Video: NBC's Engel: Egypt situation 'much more hostile'

"The consequences of instability in Egypt to the United States are really important," said former diplomatic troubleshooter Nicholas Burns, who was the Bush administration's point man on Iran from 2005 to 2008. "The strategic interests of the United States are on the line."

Mubarak's course of saying he will not seek re-election but will not step down immediately or rule out his son as a candidate "guarantees that the demonstrations will continue," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "Their demand is that Mubarak go now, not that Mubarak go in seven months." However, she said, if Mubarak had made the offer earlier that would have defused the crisis.

In his remarks, Obama emphasized that "it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders."

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Shibley Telhami, a Mideast scholar at the University of Maryland, said it was important for Obama to "lower our tone" and not appear to get directly involved in the leadership change, for fear of creating an unwelcome backlash. "The less we make this about America, the better," Telhami said.

Any period of governmental uncertainty, if Egypt goes through a succession of leaders, or if extremist factions gain the upper hand, could keep tensions across the region high for a long period.

'Egyptian opposition has so many faces'
Also adding to the uncertainty: The protesters are varied and often have conflicting agendas, ranging from students and grass-roots organizers to online activists to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which generally wants to form a state governed by Islamic law.The brotherhood is currently banned, but it could gain power in any period of political upheaval. While the Brotherhood claims to have closed its paramilitary wing long ago, it has fought politically to gain power. It has also built a nationwide charity and social network that much of Egypt's population depends on for survival.

Video: Pro-Mubarak, anti-government protesters clash

"You have to be very careful about instability for a very long period because this is a country where you just have critical problems in food supply and feeding people," said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on the Middle East at the Center for Strategic and international Studies.

All nations in the region, in fact, that aren't big oil-producing states, have problems with poverty and hunger, worries that could be worsened by any destabilizing event, he said. And instability in Egypt could spread to its neighbors.

"In terms of the worst case, the obvious one is that, over time, you see some kind of violent Islamic extremist takeover. The second worst case is that you see the government survive in a form so repressive that basically every passing month creates even more pressure for change and even more anger at the regime and at the United States," said Cordesman, a former director of intelligence assessment in the Pentagon.

A confidential June 2005 U.S. government diplomatic cable, posted online Tuesday by the WikiLeaks organization, showed that the United States has long been concerned that Egypt faced a succession crisis.

Questions about Mubarak's age and health, the cable said, "have made presidential succession a core national issue."

It is not clear how much clout will be wielded by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-prize laureate who is former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and who has emerged during the past few days as the leading opposition leader.

"This is so complex because the Egyptian opposition has so many faces," said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

For instance, Morici noted, while ElBaradei is a clear favorite of the West, he has been "quite critical of Egypt's support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza."

Morici said overhanging the whole issue of possible ramifications is the possibility of a tightening of oil supplies by oil-producing states that might be unhappy with the turn of events in Egypt's governance.

With just a 5 percent reduction in production, "you could hit $120 a barrel." That could torpedo a still fragile U.S. economic recovery, he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama to Egypt: ‘We hear your voices’

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama to Egypt: ‘We hear your voices’

    >> these protesters almost to a person want nothing less than the american president to come out four square behind them in support. the problem is for the u.s., diplomacy works more delicately than that. they know that friends of theirs, saudi arabia and jordan are watching closely. that's the dicey circumstance for the white house . our white house correspondent savannah guthrie is there watching all of that tonight. savannah, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. we await a reaction from president obama , he's expected to address the cameras any minute now. he spoke to hosni mubarak for about a half hour. after mubarak made that speech, the president met with his national security team on this egypt issue for more than an hour today. they watched the speech from inside the situation room. and we've learned that frank wisner , who's a veteran diplomat diplomat, retired was dispatched by the obama administration to speak to mubarak and did speak to him on monday. the message from president obama was don't run for re-election in september. that is exactly what mubarak said today. it does not seem to make the protesters happy. we expect to hear from the president any moment now, brian.

    >> savannah guthrie , continuing to watch things at the white house .

Photos: World reaction

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  1. Palestinian supporters of the Al-Tahrir Islamic party shout slogans in support of the protesters in Egypt who forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, as they march in a rally in Gaza City on Feb. 13. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his office on Feb. 13, in Jerusalem, Israel. The meeting comes following Netanyahu welcoming a pledge by Egypt's new military rulers to uphold Israel's 1979 peace treaty. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Algerian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, Feb. 12. Thousands of people defied a government ban on demonstrations and poured into the Algerian capital for a pro-democracy rally Saturday, a day after weeks of mass protests toppled Egypt's authoritarian leader. (Sidali Djarboub / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An Egyptian demonstrator wipes her eyes during a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London Feb. 12. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Sawsan Selim, 13, left, and her brother, Ahmad, 10, right, both Egyptian-Americans living in Atlanta, flash peace signs during a celebration of the ousting of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak Saturday, Feb. 12, in downtown Atlanta. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Amman

    Jordanian girls celebrate in front of the Egyptian embassy in Amman on Tuesday, Feb. 10. Egypt's military announced on national television it had stepped in to secure the country and promised protesters calling for President Hosni Mubarak's ouster that all their demands would soon be met. (Jamal Nasrallah / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jakarta

    Indonesian protesters raise their fists and shout slogans during a protest outside the embassy of Egypt in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb. 8. (Mast Irham / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Amman

    A Jordanian protester holds a Jordanian national flag with a picture of late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser during a protest against President Hosni Mubarak in front of the Egyptian embassy in Amman, Feb. 8. (Muhammad Hamed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Calcutta

    Activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India burn two effigies of Mubarak and President Barack Obama as they call for Mubarak to step down during a rally in Calcutta, India, Feb. 7. (Piyal Adhikary / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Istanbul

    Supporters of the pro-Islamic HAS Party march with a camel during a protest against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in central Istanbul, Feb. 6. (Murad Sezer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bethlehem

    A worshipper attends a special prayer for the people of Egypt at the Roman Catholic Melkite Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Feb. 6. (Ammar Awad / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Los Angeles

    Two boys run with Egyptian flags at a protest against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 5. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ramallah

    A Palestinian protester sets ablaze a U.S. flag on Feb. 5 in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah during a demonstration in support of the anti-government protests in Egypt calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. (Abbas Momani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Berlin

    Egyptians living in Germany and their supporters hold a rally in Berlin on Feb. 5. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Puri, India

    People jog past a sand sculpture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak created by the Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik on a beach in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Bhubaneswar on Feb. 5. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. London

    Protestors wearing masks depicting Arab leaders demonstrate in support of the Egyptian people in their fight to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in London on Feb. 5. (Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Zurich

    Demonstrators, some of them Egyptians living in Switzerland, rally in Zurich on Feb. 5. Around 300 demonstrators showed their solidarity with the opposition movements in Tunisia and Egypt. (Alessandro Della Bella / Keystone via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels

    Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 4. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Istanbul

    A man holds a portrait of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak with the slogan "No you can't" during a protest against Mubarak's regime following Friday prayers at the Beyazit Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 4. (Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tehran

    Hundreds of Iranians attend a protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to express their solidarity with the Egyptian people, in Tehran, Iran, on Feb. 4. (Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jerusalem

    A Palestinian man watches news from Egypt on television inside his shop in Jerusalem's Old City on Feb. 3. (Bernat Armangue / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Cape Town

    South Africans and Egyptians demonstrate in solidarity with the struggle of the Egyptian people in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 4. (Nic Bothma / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Kuala Lumpur

    A demonstration against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in front of the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 4. (Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. London

    Demonstrators wave an Egyptian flag and yell slogans during a protest outside a Vodafone store in London on Thursday, Feb. 3. Mobile operator Vodafone accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send pro-government text messages to subscribers, as telecom firms became further embroiled in the crisis in Egypt where large gatherings of anti-government protesters are calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gaza City

    Palestinian Hamas supporters hold signs and Egyptian flags during a demonstration calling for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak outside the Egyptian representative's office in Gaza City on Thursday, Feb. 3. (Adel Hana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Bucharest

    Members of the Egyptian community in Romania shout anti-governmental slogans and hold signs reading "Down with Mubarak" outside the Egyptian embassy in Bucharest on Feb. 3 during a protest asking for Mubarak to resign, and for democratic and non-violent reforms in Egypt. (Daniel Mihailescu / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Beirut

    Lebanese riot policemen clash with demonstrators during a rally supporting the ouster of Mubarak in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on Feb. 3. (Wael Hamzeh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Paris

    A demonstrator holds a paper that reads "Mubarak kills his people" during a protest in Paris on Feb. 3. Dozens of protestors gathered in a show of support for protests currently taking place in Egypt. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Tel Aviv

    Israeli-Arabs and Egyptians attend a demonstration close to the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, to protest against the Egyptian government on Tuesday, Feb. 1. (Oliver Weiken / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. London

    Egyptians demonstrate outside the Egyptian embassy in London, Feb. 1. Egyptians in London gathered in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Egypt who are demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Similar protests occurred around the world. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Athens

    Protesters hold up an Egyptian flag during a demonstration in central Athens, Feb. 1. More than 200 Egyptian immigrants and Greek supporters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in Athens in a peaceful protest. (Kostas Tsironis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Berlin

    Protesters rally in front of the foreign ministry in Berlin, Feb. 1. (Lukas Kreibig / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Amsterdam

    A girl joins hundreds of people protesting against the Egyptian president at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, Feb. 1. (Evert Elzinga / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Bangkok

    A Thai anti-government "red shirt" protester holds a rock as he attends a protest in front of the Egyptian Embass in Bangkok, Feb. 1. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Philadelphia

    Dr. Gertrude Copperman and others demonstrate in support of the Egyptian people in Philadelphia, Jan. 31. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Tunis

    Tunisian students shout slogans during a demonstration in solidarity with Egyptian protesters on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Jan. 31. (Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. New York City

    A man holds up a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a protest against his regime outside of the Egyptian mission to the United Nations in New York City, Jan. 31. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Morocco

    Moroccan demonstrators chant slogans during a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Rabat, Jan. 31. Morocco is watching nervously as other North African countries erupt in revolt, with warnings even from within the royal family that it will probably not be spared. (Abdelhak Senna / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Rome

    A demonstrator shouts slogans as others wave Egyptian flags during a protest in support of the Egyptian people, in central Rome, Italy, Jan. 31. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Jakarta

    Indonesian activists release doves during a protest in support of the Egyptian people in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 31. (Dita Alangkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Seoul

    Egyptians living in South Korea and South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's rule near the Egypt Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 31. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Houston

    Doaa Khedr, with her daughter, Maryam Ali, 1, protests along with others outside the Egyptian Consulate in Houston, Texas, Jan. 30. (Melissa Phillip / The Houston Chronicle via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Gaza

    Hamas militant Mohammed Abdil Hadi is greeted by his mother upon his arrival home in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 30. He had fled Cairo's Abu Zaabal prison as it was raided on Saturday by an Egyptian mob. Egypt closed its crossing with the Gaza Strip on Sunday as countrywide protests spread to the border area. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Dubai

    A stock market screen is seen at the Dubai Financial Market as stock markets in several Gulf countries dropped on mounting concerns over Egypt's future, Jan. 30. (Karim Sahib / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Los Angeles

    Protesters rally against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak outside the Federal Building in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., Jan. 29. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Atlanta

    Arny Soejoedi, 17, joined several hundred anti-Mubarak protesters in downtown Atlanta, Jan. 29. (Rich Addicks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Washington

    A crowd chants in front of the White House in Washington, Jan. 29, demanding that Mubarak step down. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Beirut

    A Lebanese protester holds up a placard during a demonstration supporting Mubarak's ouster at the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, Jan. 29. (Wael Hamzeh / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Paris

    A man holds a banner reading "solidarity with Egyptian people, Mubarak murderer" during a demonstration near the Egyptian embassy in Paris, France, Jan. 29. (Tara James / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Gaza City

    Palestinians wait to fill petrol containers in Gaza. Gaza Strip residents flocked to petrol stations after clashes in neighboring Egypt hampered smugglers ferrying fuel supplies through tunnels that run under the border into the enclave, witnesses said. (Ahmed Zakot / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Damascus, Syria

    Syrian and Palestinian militants hold candles near the Egyptian embassy in Damascus to express support for Egyptian protesters, Jan. 29. (Youssef Badawi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Washington

    Amal Elbahi, originally from Cairo, speaks at a protest near the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, Jan. 29. Demonstrators held signs and chanted, demanding that Mubarak step down. They also criticized the Obama administration's response to the clashes in Egypt. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Mexico City

    Protesters hold signs that read "Out Mubarak" while standing outside Egypt's embassy in Mexico City, Jan. 29. (Stringer/mexico / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Cambridge, Mass.

    Protesters walk through Cambridge, Mass., as they protest against Mubarak and call for massive government reforms, Jan. 29. (Lisa Poole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Seattle

    Mohamed Sadek, who is from Egypt, but lives in Redmond, Wash., holds a sign comparing the number of U.S. presidents who have been in power while Egyptian president Hosni Mubarakat has been in office. Several hundred people gathered in downtown Seattle, Jan. 29, to show their support and solidarity for anti-government demonstrations in Egypt. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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