President Barack Obama on Tuesday challenged Egypt's embattled
autocratic ruler, a staunch US ally, to begin immediately 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 and a
30-minute telephone conversation with Mubarak, Obama went on television
Protesters to stay in square 'as long as necessary'
US encouraged Mubarak to say current term will be last
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.
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 positions of political power do so at the will of our people."
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.
his speech after hearing from a special envoy, former US ambassador to
Egypt Frank Wisner, whom Obama dispatched to Cairo on Monday. Wisner's
message to Mubarak: The United States saw his tenure at an end, did not
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.
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.
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.
In a halfway
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. He appealed for calm.
US reigns in support of Mubarak
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 Prize laureate Mohamed
ElBaradei, a former Egyptian diplomat and chief of the U.N. nuclear
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.
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 during 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,
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said Mubarak must leave sooner than he
plans because his government "has no credibility" to oversee a process
"His continued role in Egypt's transition is
unrealistic," said Leahy, who sits on a Senate panel that oversees US
foreign aid, including some $1.5 billion per year that Egypt receives.
the escalating anti-government protests led the State Department to
order nonessential American personnel and their families to leave the
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 US citizens were expected to be flown out late Tuesday, with an
additional 1,000 likely to be evacuated in coming days.
Cairo airport is open and operating, but the department warned that
flights may be disrupted, and 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.