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(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON – The White House encouraged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday to announce that he wouldn’t run for reelection.
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A special envoy dispatched to Egypt by President Barack Obama told Mubarak that the US saw his presidency at an end and urged him not to seek another term in office while preparing for an orderly transition to real democracy in September’s scheduled elections, American officials said on Tuesday.
Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Cairo with close ties to Mubarak, has been dispatched to Egypt to speak to members of the government, while current US ambassador Margaret Scobey talked on Tuesday with Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency who has emerged as a leading figure among a coalition of disparate opposition groups.
In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
Obama, meanwhile, was due to consult with the members of his national security team later on Tuesday to map out a course forward on Egypt.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, added his voice to that of a small number of lawmakers who had called for Mubarak to go.
The Egyptian president “must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure,” Kerry wrote in Tuesday’s New York Times
. “Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.”
Meanwhile, the State Department ordered that all non-vital government personnel should leave Egypt, and increased its efforts to help American citizens leave the country.
Egypt’s army leadership is reassuring the US it does not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but is instead allowing protesters to “wear themselves out,” according to a former US official in contact with several top Egyptian army officers. The Egyptians are using a colloquial saying to describe their strategy: A boiling pot with a lid that’s too tight will blow up the kitchen, the former official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
That was always the argument that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, whom Mubarak tapped as his vice president on Friday, made regarding the handling of the Sinai-Gaza border, every time visiting US officials asked their counterparts to stop the smuggling from Egypt to the Strip – that the best way to head off Gazans’ unrest was to allow a relief valve that permitted them to bring in supplies.
The Egyptian officers expressed concern with White House statements appearing to side with the protesters, saying that stoking revolt to remove Mubarak risked creating a vacuum that the Muslim Brotherhood could fill, the former US official said.
Former US ambassador to Egypt Dan Kurtzer, however, assessed on Tuesday that the bulk of the protesters were not looking to elevate the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The majority of Egyptians don’t think it’s good for their own interests, even though it’s a very religious society,” Kurtzer said, speaking on a Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Council for Public Affairs conference call.
But he said there was a very real risk of the Muslim Brotherhood using the chaos and government turmoil to advance its position.
“Islamists are going to try to take advantage of and even hijack the situation [if] they can. So it’s a really dangerous situation,” he said.
Kurtzer stressed that given the situation on the ground, the US had a limited ability to dictate the outcome.
“If the question is, well, how do you prevent the takeover or the hijacking of what might end up a different government by the Muslim Brotherhood, the answer is, there are no readymade answers for that,” he said.
He said that Egyptians from all quarters were looking to the US, but
were unlikely to be significantly moved by the posture of the Obama
“The voice of the United States is important to both sides in this
standoff largely for tactical reasons, but is not going to inform their
strategic choices,” Kurtzer said. “Both sides are looking carefully to
see if we’ve on the one hand diminished our support for Mubarak or
increased our support for the demonstrators, but this is very, very much
an internal Egyptian conversation that’s gone on over the past 10
Kurtzer blasted the Israeli press for suggesting that the US
administration’s calibrated decision to distance itself from Mubarak
indicated Obama would be willing to slacken ties to Israel as well.
“It’s the height of absurdity to think that the US would abandon Israel,” he said.AP contributed to this report.