Robert Gibbs White House 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – The White House strongly condemned the violence used in Egypt against protesters on Wednesday and reiterated its call for President Hosni Mubarak to begin transitioning to democratic representation immediately.
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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed frustration that after US President Barack Obama told Mubarak on Tuesday that an “ordinary transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now,” the only change evident a day later was the use of violence against protesters for the first time after days of demonstration’s calling for the Egyptian leader’s ouster.
“Now means yesterday,” Gibbs said of the timeline the US wanted to see for Mubarak to act on Obama’s message.
The two leaders spoke on Tuesday, after Mubarak announced he would not seek reelection in September but did not agree to step down before then as protesters are demanding.
In a statement put out following the conversation, Obama told the young demonstrators, “We hear your voices.”
Obama also reiterated US calls for restraint, stressing in the phone call that violence was unacceptable. Gibbs said that Obama received no word from Mubarak during the call that he planned to shift course on putting down mass demonstrations that until now have been peaceful.
Reports have indicated that Mubarak supporters have been behind the bloodshed, with suggestions that the move toward violence came at the president’s instigation.
Gibbs would not weigh in on who the US thought was responsible, but did say, “If any of the violence is instigated by the government it should stop immediately.
“The president and his administration strongly condemn the outrageous and deplorable violence that’s taken place on the streets of Cairo,” Gibbs said during his daily press briefing. “We continue to urge restraint.”
And he reiterated that US assistance to Cairo – some $1.5 billion annually, most of it in military aid – was under review pending the treatment of the protesters by the government, though he said no decisions had yet been made.
Gibbs avoided describing what a future government of Egypt might look like, or whether it was acceptable to the US for Mubarak to preside over the transition to the next elections. Great uncertainty clouds the format of the transition and its ultimate outcome, but Gibbs would not say if one feared outcome – elevation of an Islamist fundamentalist regime – would be acceptable to the US.
On Monday, Gibbs had said that “increasing democratic representation has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors,” though he declined to specify which ones.
Diplomatic hands, however, take that as a tacit reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The New York Times quoted a Middle East expert who consulted with White House officials on Monday morning as saying that they had “made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process.”
But Gibbs did emphasize on Wednesday that the US does expect any new government to continue its role as a stabilizing force in the Middle East and respect the treaties it has signed, understood to be a reference to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Meanwhile, a Rasmussen poll conducted of 1,000 American citizens last week found that 70 percent thought the US government should avoid interfering in what’s happening in Egypt with only 7% arguing that America should help the current government.
However, a plurality (38%) think it would be bad for the US if the government is overthrown, with only 5% thinking it would be good for the US and 26% thinking it would have no impact.
Additionally, most Americans thought the unrest was likely to continue, and that was likely to hurt US interests. Some 59% believed it would be bad for the United States if the unrest spread from Egypt, with only 8% believing it would be helpful.