Developments in Egypt have been so dramatic and have moved so fast in the past few days that I am engulfed in conflicting emotions about what is happening there.
On the one hand, I am elated and excited about the potential for democratic change made possible by ordinary people losing their fear of a repressive regime and going to the streets to demand its ouster.
On the other hand, I am filled with apprehension at the potential for chaos and violence. I worry about family members and friends who are having to fend off a wave of looting and vandalism unleashed by a police force that simply vanished from the scene.
The uprising has already achieved a great deal. President Hosni Mubarak has given up on his ambition to pass on the mantle of power to his son Gamal. By appointing a vice president for the first time in 30 years, he acknowledged the impossibility of the inheritance scenario.
Mubarak is trying to suggest that he is willing to enact reforms. But he has appointed a vice president and a prime minister who both have prominent military backgrounds. He seems to be trying to aiming to please the military, rather than the protesters.
These changes will never satisfy the crowds in the streets. These measures will become meaningful only if they pave the way for Mubarak's own exit. If Mubarak leaves, the protesters might be willing to grant the military a chance to usher the country toward democratic elections.
The military appears unwilling to fire on the protesters. The repressive internal security forces are off the street. In my view, the demonstrators have gained the upper hand.
The disappearance of those security and police forces from the streets of Cairo on Friday night may have been a tactic to frighten the middle and upper classes into clamoring for their return. If so, the tactic failed when neighbors organized to protect their families and property. The people simply refused to let themselves be terrorized.
They see that the game is over for the Mubarak regime. Now it's time for the Obama administration to acknowledge as much. It has been trying to hedge its bets by appearing tough on Mubarak, yet stopping short of pulling the plug on his regime in case he survives.
The administration should quit prevaricating and take a clear position in line with the principles America stands for. It should help nudge Mubarak into the dustbin of history. That is the only way to gain the future trust and friendship of the Egyptian people.
Ragui Assaad, a professor of international development at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, spends three to four months a year conducting research in his native Egypt. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.