Obama pledges friendship, assistance to Egyptian people

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDE
February 12, 2011 02:51

Top US officials say Teheran is wary Iranians may take to the streets, inspired by Egyptian people’s revolt.




President Obama campaigning for Rep. Joe Sestak

311_obama yo mama. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama pledged friendship and assistance to the Egyptian people after the dawn of a new political era in Cairo, stressing the importance of a fully democratic and inclusive power taking the reins of government.

“The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary – and asked for – to pursue a credible transition to a democracy,” Obama said at the White House Friday, hours after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

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Obama noted that the hard work of forming a democratic government was still ahead, even as he described the peaceful resistance in Egypt as something that had “inspired us” and showed that nonviolence can be more effective than terrorism, and other acts of force.

“This is not the end of Egypt’s transition.

It’s a beginning. I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead,” he said, adding he expected Egyptians to work peacefully through that full transition. “For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.”

Obama also called for concrete steps – including lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and preparing a path to free and fair elections.

“Above all,” he stressed, “this transition must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table.”



Whichever of those voices ends up composing the new government, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs made clear that the United States expects it to maintain the peace treaty with Israel.

“I think that the partnership that we’ve had with the people and the nation of Egypt for 30 years has brought regional stability and has brought peace, particularlybetween the countries of Egypt and Israel,” he said, speaking to the press following the president’s remarks. “And I think it’s important that the next government of Egypt, as we’ve said in here many times, recognize the accords that have been signed with the government of Israel.”

He explained that the US was looking for the transition to “happen in an orderly way to ensure some of that very stability,” including counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries. He said several times, “I don't think we have to fear democracy.”

The US dispatched Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Israel and Jordan this weekend to discuss the ramifications of the recent developments, and reassure them despite the current climate of uncertainty.

Gibbs, in his final press briefing, steered away from criticizing Jordan and other Arab regimes that don’t practice democracy or give their people freedoms when challenged by the press.

“We have conversations with governments throughout the world in this region and in other regions about adhering to universal values,” Gibbs said.

But he seized on the moment to press Iran.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt

“The Iranian government should allow the Iranian people to exercise the very same right of peaceful assembly and ability to demonstrate and communicate their desires,” he said. “I think if the government of Iran was as confident as they would have you believe in the statements that they put out, they would have nothing to fear with the peaceful demonstration like those that you’ve seen in Cairo and throughout Egypt.”

Speaking earlier in the day, Vice President Joe Biden made an even more direct appeal to Iran’s leaders: “I say to our Iranian friends: Let your people march. Let your people speak. Release your people from jail. Let them have a voice.”

On Capitol Hill, members from both chambers and both sides of the aisle welcomed the news of the protesters’ success, but sounded notes of caution on how to proceed.

“This is an extraordinary moment for Egypt. Courageous and peaceful demands for freedom and opportunity have now won the Egyptian people a chance at a new beginning,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.

But he warned, “Now the hard work intensifies to prepare for free and fair elections that will allow the people to choose a broadly representative and responsive government.”

Kerry called on Egypt’s army to “heed the call to lift the emergency law and clarify a timetable to establish a proper foundation for credible elections.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urged that “steps must be taken for the prompt commencement of a calm and orderly transition process toward freedom and democracy in Egypt,” including constitutional and administrative reforms and the participation of “responsible actors who will not only advance the aspirations of the Egyptian people, but will continue to enforce Egypt’s international obligations.”

She added, “We must also urge the unequivocal rejection of any involvement by the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists who may seek to exploit and hijack these events to gain power, oppress the Egyptian people, and do great harm to Egypt’s relationship with the United States, Israel and other free nations.”

But Robert Danin, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said that offering the Muslim Brotherhood a seat at the table was precisely what Obama was doing when he called for including “all of Egypt’s voices.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered the most organized opposition group in Egypt following decades of suppression of political groups under Mubarak. Polls show them enjoying the support of 15-30 percent of the public.

“I think the United States will be holding some form of dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood,” assessed Danin, now a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, given Obama's comments Friday. “That’s a dramatic change in the traditional American approach toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which was to keep them at arm’s length.”

He said despite that shift, the US would be looking to the building of strong institutions to ensure a transition to a true democracy that wasn’t taken over by groups inimical to the United States.

Chief among those institutions is the army, according to David Makovsky, a Middle East expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There’s been the hope that the military retains its credibility with the public and can guide this transition in an orderly fashion,” he noted.

In addition to the respected and prominent role the army plays in the country – not to mention its assumption of oversight for the current process of transition – the military enjoys strong relations with the US, due to more than $1 billion in annual military aid and shared training missions, and contacts with the Israeli establishment.

The Egyptian military is understood to have no desire to break the peace treaty with Israel.

Though there have been differences between the White House and State Department – as well as among the teams in both institutions – about how to play a role in the transition, and what the posture of the US should be toward the Muslim Brotherhood, there has been widespread support for a strong military role.

Obama spoke specifically during his remarks about the constructive role the army can play in the coming days, and praised it for its role during the largely peaceful protests that lead to Mubarak’s ouster.

“The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state, and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people,” he said, spelling out specific steps he wants to see taken.

“That means protecting the rights of Egypt’s citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free.”


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