updated 2/4/2011 6:35:51 PM ET 2011-02-04T23:35:51

1. How will Mubarak handle the transition to new power?
The best case isn't great, and the worst case borders on the unthinkable.  Mubarak has to play five-dimensional chess: figure out how to relinquish authority without creating a vacuum that leads to a takeover by a hostile force; evaluate the interests of the military; maintain good terms with the United States; abandon the dream of having his son succeed him; and protect his legacy.  And he must do all that from a position of extreme weakness.

2. What will the demonstrators do?  Will more people come out?
Driving this story: the people in the streets.  So far, nothing has deterred them -- not the police, not the curfews, not the military, not Mubarak's speech.  If the crowds continue to grow and keep their rhetoric and actions focused on aspirations of democracy and freedom, they will effectively leave the government no choice but to change -- no matter what any president or government does.

3. Will the army fire on the demonstrators?
The army's apparent unwillingness to suppress dissent is a surprise and an indication that the military senses the public mood for change.  It is probably in the United States' interest for the future Egyptian government to have a strong military presence, or, at least, military backing, If the unrest triggers a violent response, the military will lose some of its standing in Egypt as an admired and respected institution.  That will complicate matters for Obama.

4. Will the Obama administration make clear that American aid cannot go to a government that shoots peaceful demonstrators?
The President and Secretary of State have been remarkably outspoken in criticizing the actions of the Mubarak government and demanding democratic reform.  Some critics will say it is too little, too late, but it is quite a change from the rhetoric of just a week ago.
Threatening to cut off military assistance and foreign aid to Egypt if the government starts to use significant force against the demonstrators would be a grave and risky move, but one the Obama administration might feel pressured to make.

5. Will there be similar threats from Congress?
The administration is vulnerable to criticism from both the right and the left for failing to champion human rights and democracy over stability and status quo.  So far, congressional condemnation has been muted.  But the situation is in flux on the ground in Egypt and in the halls of the Capitol.

This chat is moderated. As many questions as possible will be answered.

Video: Stories Driving the Week: Egypt in chaos

  1. Closed captioning of: Stories Driving the Week: Egypt in chaos

    >> weekly segment called "driving the week." where mark halperin will give his -- life is a highway

    >> nice.

    >> -- top political store troiz watch for. egypt is the top story. how will mubarak handle the transition.

    >> it's mubarak .

    >> it's my father. he says mubarak . i'm sorry, mubarak .

    >> it's the polish accent .

    >> i know. it's sad. you're absolutely right. mubarak .

    >> you should hear how he pronounces my name.

    >> it's jackass. i don't know how he gets that.

    >> how will he handle the transition to power and will he, can he?

    >> we have a foregone conclusion that he's going eventually. the guy's been in power for a long time. he has a lot of decisions to make. he has to get over the disappointment that his son is not going to succeed him. he has to think about the role of his legacy and how people view him, whether he stays in the country or not. he has a lot of decisions to make. he can be a force for good in the transition. if he handles it as trying to help the country versus holding on to power.

    >> barack obama goes to cairo, gives a speech and he inspires, perhaps he's the one who inspires a lot of the egyptians to get out into the streets eventually? this is the same guy accused of being feckless in the face of iranian protests in 2009 .

    >> it's hard for any president, particularly a democrat, to flip instantly. i'm sure the president's instincts are to go with the as operations of people seeking democracy and freedom. america's reliance on egypt as a military partner and diplomatic partner is very strong. the president has moved farther and faster than he might have.

    >> mubarak had the capacity psychologically to get-go?

    >> it's against the grain. this is a guy who sees himself as a great man, he's doing a favor, if you will, leading the country. if he doesn't go soon, it's a nightmare. every day he hangs on, the situation gets worse.

    >> topic two, the demonstrators, will more people come out, how long can they hold out and, last, without it really getting bad?

    >> have the crowds, will they grow billinger? they've not been deterred by the military, the curfew or furmubarak himself. they are driving the story.

    >> as erin burnett pointed out, how long can the situation be where people are not going to work, they're out there in the street, they're angry, 60% of the country is young people and most of them don't have anything to do. how long does that last before it really becomes a nightmare?

    >> that's why it's driving the week. will they continue? will people join them? will there be a backlash against them? so far they've sustained.

    >> mika, you know, talking again to an arab source who agreed with me, that for any other regime in the middle east , this is the end. there's no doubt it's the end. we're not dealing with any other regime. we're dealing with mubarak . think about what he has been through since 1981 . think about the turmoil, the chaos in the middle east . he's stayed above it all. i guess what it comes down is the third question that mark says is driving the week. it is ultimately the question that we asked about iran and now we're asking it about egypt . ultimately, with their backs against the wall, will the egyptian army fire on its own people?

    >> and why is that a tough call?

    >> that's the final question.

    >> they're a respected institution. there's almost universal conscription in the military. it's engrained in society. i think it probably will have a military component to it. there's no doubt that the military cares about the outcome. if they start to fire on the citizens and if they become a repressive force, they have not so far, that potentially risks their standing with the people of egypt . it makes it much harder for the american government to support a role for them in a transition government.

    >> big difference if they fire to save mubarak as opposed to protecting the state and integrity of egypt . that's why it's important that mubarak go. then the hillary can step in and restore order. they can't restore order now. everyone on the induststreets will say you're trying to help and protect mubarak . they are looking feckless, looking weak, people are viewing it with contempt. that's bad.

    >> tell me if i'm characterizing this correctly, the white house is sort of staying on the fence about this, ambiguous. why not say, listen, for 30 years --

    >> we don't want to basically have the united states look like we're pulling the rug out from under good friends. privately, the president has to get on the horn privately to try to make the transition happen. publicly i would argue the united states needs to be very careful that we are not seen as the ones who are pulling the rug out. it just is not right after a 30-year relationship.

    >> mark, that's what the whougs has to deal with. all of my sources in the middle east this weekend basically concluded the same, the less the president says, the better. because, yes, we want mubarak pushed to the side but we cannot be seen throwing under the bus one of our closest al lies over the past three deck okays in the most turbulent region on the globe.

    >> i think they've gotten it just right. they're saying a lot about democracy and aspirations and the will of the people . they have to say that, not just for egypt , for the whole world. america can't be on the wrong side of people want be to be represented by their government.

    >> this is a huge story.

    >> willie.

    >> i'm also not sure people realize how close our relationship is with egypt . surpassed only by israel in terms of military aid .

    >> there's a reason we should care about this deeply.

    >> these are dupe roots we have with egypt .

    >> it's a framework of our middle east policy .

    >> right.

    >> it's a framework and it has been since '78, since the camp david accords . as you said to me, if he goes, and he's followed by an islamist state or less friendly state, that turns on israel , we're back to pre-sadat days.

    >> exactly. the arab military option is gone, because egypt made peace with israel . the last three decades as bad as the middle east has been, that is the one thing we knew couldn't happen. you couldn't have a regional war. this could put that back on the table if things unravel.

    >> that's our first edition of the top three stories "driving the week." go to joe.msnbc.com for mark halper halperin's full list.

    >> number four i'm sure is huntsman 2012 .

    >> absolutely.

    >> the train cannot be stopped.

    >> at 7:45 eastern, mark will be doing a live website.