Egypt-watchers started warning the White House early last year that the country was unstable, but the administration continued to offer a muted response, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Egypt Working Group, which includes human rights activists, Mideast experts, and neoconservative policymakers, sent letters to Hillary Clinton urging a more vigorous response and warning that the US wasn't doing enough to prepare for the inevitable transition. The group also cautioned that Mubarak was planning to rig a number of elections and that young Egyptians were becoming increasingly restless.
But the Obama administration was reluctant to deliver tough pro-democracy rhetoric, worried of alienating foreign governments, and slow to embrace the revolt once it began. Officials say the president and secretary of state did raise democracy issues in private, pushing for press freedom, elections, and access to social media, among other things. But it's likely they didn't seriously consider the idea that Mubarak could be ousted, says a former Israeli peace negotiator: "This type of movement simply never happened before in the Middle East."