WASHINGTON – The White House on Monday eased its calls on Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak to relax his grip on government, as the Egyptian leader remained
in office despite massive protests calling for his ouster.
After days of
calling on Mubarak to take immediate action to respond to antigovernment
protesters and expressing frustration that his moves toward reform had not been
bold or made fast enough, the White House on Monday labeled the steps he’d taken
to date “monumental changes.”RELATED:Obama calls for political transition in
EgyptPremium: Mazel on Obama: No understanding of Middle
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also
appeared to chastise opposition groups that have resisted entering into talks on
reforming the government presided over by newly appointed Vice President Omar
Suleiman, before Mubarak has departed.
Gibbs’s comments came as the US,
which has emphasized the need for an “orderly transition” in the face of chaotic
protests, indicated that a quick exit by Mubarak could lead to further turmoil
and complicate the creation of a new government that is truly
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that
if Mubarak left at once, the process according to the Egyptian constitution
would require elections in 60 days, which would be too soon for opposition
groups to organize for a vote.
US President Barack Obama himself
acknowledged during a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News that when it came
to the timing of Mubarak’s departure, “only he knows what he’s going to
Obama, who called on Mubarak last week to move urgently toward
reform and heed the calls of protesters who wanted more freedoms and a new
regime, highlighted in Sunday’s interview some positive actions by
“He’s been a good partner when it comes to the peace with
Israel. There have been counter-terrorism efforts that he’s been very
[supportive] of,” he told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.
At the same time, Obama
refrained from sharply criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood, which is looking to
improve its position as the current regime falters.
well-organized, and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-US,
there’s no doubt about it,” he said, but pointed to the large number of secular
protesters as well.
Gibbs on Monday pointed to “monumental changes” in
Egypt, including Mubarak’s announcement that after 30 years in power, he
wouldn’t run again in presidential elections scheduled for September, nor would
his son Gamal, as well as his appointing Suleiman and tasking him with presiding
over “free and fair” elections.
Those changes were largely announced last
week and found lacking by the administration, but the US is now concerned that
without a managed transition, further instability could result, as well as a
process that does not secure the position of moderate, democratic forces in the
The current turmoil, which analysts warn could improve the
position of the Muslim Brotherhood – one of the few organized political forces
in Egypt – is likely to be extended as many protesters rejected Suleiman’s call
to negotiate a new governing system at the same time he rejected many of their
Gibbs called on opposition groups to participate in that process
“It is important that the people see progress toward that
meaningful change, just as it is important that those in the opposition take
part in this process and put forward what they want to see come out of it,” he
“If one side says we’re not going to change at all, and one side
says we’re not going to participate until everything changes, you’re going to
have a very static situation. And I think what is important is that we have to
have and see meaningful progress, and both sides have to be involved in that
Gibbs also said that despite the focus of many demonstrators on
forcing Mubarak out, “this is about a process. It’s not about a
Middle East expert Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson
Center described the shift in American rhetoric as “an acknowledgment of
He said the US had a limited capability of changing the
situation on the ground and that it had been juggling various interests –
including staying true to American values by supporting protesters calling for
democratic reform, as well as not losing a key US ally – and settled on its
latest position once it became clear Mubarak would not leave quickly on his
“When they realized they had zero ability to affect the situation,
they made a decision out of necessity,” Miller said.
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