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Washington - Obama: Egypt's Mubarak Must Begin Transition Now

Published on: February 1, 2011 08:02 PM
By: AP
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President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Egypt in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Egypt in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Washington - President Barack Obama on Tuesday challenged Egypt’s embattled autocratic ruler, a staunch U.S. ally, to immediately begin the process of transitioning the country to new leadership, a signal that there should be no drawn-out goodbye.

Earlier, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had announced he would not seek another term in office but also would not yield to growing demands to step down now. After a huddle at the White House, Obama went on television to respond.

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In his brief statement at the White House, Obama invoked Egypt’s ancient and storied past in what appeared to be an appeal to Mubarak’s desire to be remembered well in history as a powerful leader and peacemaker. He said he had spoken to Mubarak to press his case for 30 minutes shortly after Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people.

“He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place,” Obama said of Mubarak. “Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in position of political power do so at the will of our people.”

“Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation; the voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of the moments, this is one of those times,” Obama said. He added that the United States heard those voices demanding change as anti-government protests filled the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

Mubarak delivered his speech after hearing from a special envoy, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, whom Obama dispatched to Cairo on Monday. Wisner’s message: The U.S. saw his tenure at an end, didn’t want him to stand for re-election in September and wanted him to prepare an orderly transition to real democracy.

“It is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” Obama said he had told Mubarak in the phone call.

That suggested Mubarak’s concession was not enough, but Obama left the point dangling. He was careful not to say that Mubarak should have left immediately, and he stressed that it was not up to the United States to pick Egypt’s leaders.

“Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties,” he said. “It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And, it should result in a government that is not only grounded in democratic principles but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Obama praised the “passion and dignity” of the protesters who have rallied for Mubarak’s departure as an “inspiration” to people around the world, and he hailed the Egyptian military for its poise in handling the situation.

“To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices,” Obama said. “I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and grandchildren.”

In a half-way concession to hundreds of thousands of protesters, Mubarak said in Egypt that he would serve out the rest of his term working to ensure a “peaceful transfer of power” and new rules on presidential elections. His message that he would not immediately leave was rebuffed by many demonstrators in Cairo’s main square.

Obama warned there would be “difficult days ahead” in Egypt as the situation develops and appealed for calm.

Tuesday’s developments signaled that after a week of balancing support for protesters and for America’s close ally of three decades, the administration had decided that long-term backing for the Egyptian president was no longer tenable.

They also coincided with a greater outreach to opposition figures, most notably opening talks with a possible Mubarak successor, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a former Egyptian diplomat and chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Officials said that in his conversation with Mubarak, Wisner did not demand that the president step down immediately but rather accept that he was nearing the end of his three-decade grip on power and not try to extend it. Wisner was instructed to use a “light touch” in conveying Obama’s message, one official said.

Wisner and Mubarak are friends, and the officials said the two had a back-and-forth discussion in which each provided the other with his perspective on developments.

The officials said Obama was keenly aware of Mubarak’s need to save face and make a graceful exit, acknowledging that the Egyptian leader has been a staunch ally and a major player in all Middle East peace efforts over the past 30 years. The administration hopes that other Arab allies will appreciate that approach, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the behind-the-scenes diplomacy on the record.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Mubarak must leave sooner than he plans because his government “has no credibility” to oversee a process toward democracy.

“His continued role in Egypt’s transition is unrealistic,” said Leahy, who sits on a Senate panel that oversees U.S. foreign aid, including some $1.5 billion per year that Egypt receives.

Meanwhile, the escalating anti-government protests led the State Department to order non-essential American personnel and their families to leave the country.

The department said it had flown about 1,600 Americans out of Egypt since Monday. It said Americans were struggling to reach Cairo’s airport because roads were closed as a result of demonstrations. Some 60 U.S. citizens were expected to be flown out late Tuesday, with an additional 1,000 likely to be evacuated in coming days.

The Cairo airport is open and operating but the department warned that flights may be disrupted and that people should be prepared for lengthy waits. On Tuesday, it added Frankfurt, Germany, as a destination and the Egyptian cities of Aswan and Luxor as departure points.


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Read Comments (9)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 01, 2011 at 10:18 PM phx613 Says:

Obama praises the "passion and dignity" of the protestors. This is quite interesting because when the Iranians rose up, he had nothing to say. I wonder what the distinction is between which protestors he takes notice of and praises. In Iran people were protesting for freedom, against a corrupt dictator, and in Egypt it appears to be the same. In Egypt though, it appears that a terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, will wield power and influence. I guess that Obama is more comfortable with terrorist regimes like Iran and what will soon be in power in Egypt. As an aside, remember when people in the U.S. protests Obama's policies, I don't recall the words "passion and dignity" being uses. The protestors were called racist, and "astroturf". As it seems to be the case many times , Obama has greater respect and pride in foreign ideas and programs than in the great country that he is supposed to represent.

2

 Feb 01, 2011 at 10:29 PM american Says:

obama biggest foll the support revolution and drop an ally like a garbage

3

 Feb 02, 2011 at 12:28 AM Joel Says:

Where was he during the Green Revolution?

4

 Feb 02, 2011 at 12:53 AM cowfy Says:

the rodent escaping the sinking ship.

5

 Feb 02, 2011 at 08:05 AM cool masmid Says:

Can anyone explain me why is Obama always telling other people what to, or what not to do. He has been telling Netanyahu for the longest time what to do, and now Egypt. Also back at home he is always meddling into politics, telling Patterson don't run for governor again and there were many other cases where he stuck his nose in. Seriously if he would spend less time telling others what to do and more time focusing on his job then maybe this country will be in a little better shape.

6

 Feb 02, 2011 at 08:29 AM ALLAN Says:

Reply to #1  
phx613 Says:

Obama praises the "passion and dignity" of the protestors. This is quite interesting because when the Iranians rose up, he had nothing to say. I wonder what the distinction is between which protestors he takes notice of and praises. In Iran people were protesting for freedom, against a corrupt dictator, and in Egypt it appears to be the same. In Egypt though, it appears that a terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, will wield power and influence. I guess that Obama is more comfortable with terrorist regimes like Iran and what will soon be in power in Egypt. As an aside, remember when people in the U.S. protests Obama's policies, I don't recall the words "passion and dignity" being uses. The protestors were called racist, and "astroturf". As it seems to be the case many times , Obama has greater respect and pride in foreign ideas and programs than in the great country that he is supposed to represent.

What great comments! Your appraisal of the current and past sitiuations and our beloved (not by me) President's reactions to them is right on point.

7

 Feb 02, 2011 at 08:54 AM Benny Says:

#1 and #5 well said
Maybe our president should start the transition too (we have more unhappy people in US with him than egyptions have with Mubarak)

8

 Feb 02, 2011 at 10:21 AM marcia Says:

Mubarek spoke to the Egyptian people, said he would leave in Sept., WHY did Odumbo need to say after that speech that he needs to leave NOW?! Would he appreciate Mubarek doing the same if the roles were reversed? It could happen you know.

9

 Feb 02, 2011 at 12:09 PM Anonymous Says:

Quite comical actually.
Obama using "dignity" to describe a bloodthirsty violent mob of extreme militants (the Muslim Brotherhood). They vandalized & looted thier own historical museums, organized prison outbreaks and called for the destruction of America and Israel.
Very dignified indeed!
Obama's continuous kissing up to killers makes me gag on my vomit.

10

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