Egypt protest soldiers 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON— The State Department on Tuesday ordered non-essential US government personnel and their families to leave Egypt amid growing anti-government protests and uncertainty over the security situation.
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The move came as the Obama administration grasps for a response to the revolt against its strongest Arab ally and struggles with the implications for US policy in the Middle East and beyond. As it reduces staff at the US Embassy in Cairo, the State Department said it had asked a respected former US ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, to visit members of embattled President Hosni Mubarak's government. "As someone with deep experience in the region, he is meeting with Egyptian officials and providing his assessment," it said.
In a statement, the department said it had ordered non-essential personnel to leave "in light of recent events." The move is an indication of Washington's deepening concern about developments in Egypt. The order replaces an initial decision last week to allow non-essential workers who wanted to leave the country to do so at government expense.
The department said it would continue to evacuate private US citizens from Egypt aboard government-chartered planes.
On Monday, the US evacuated more than 1,200 Americans from Cairo on such
flights and said it expected to fly out roughly 1,400 more in the
coming days. Monday's flights ferried Americans from Cairo to Larnaca,
Cyprus; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey. On Tuesday, the department
expects to add Frankfurt, Germany as a destination.
It also hopes to arrange evacuation flights from the Egyptian cities of Aswan and Luxor.
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The Cairo airport is open and operating but the department warned that
flights may be disrupted and that people should be prepared for lengthy
The administration has thus far confined its public comments to calls
for restraint, reforms and a transition to a real democracy.
But as the protests against Mubarak's three-decade iron rule escalated
on Tuesday, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, gave public voice to what senior
US officials have said only privately in recent days: that Mubarak
should "step aside gracefully to make way for a new political
"It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge 'fair' elections,"
Kerry wrote in The New York Times. "The most important step that he can
take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he
has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential
election this year. 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, Egypt's army leadership is reassuring the US that the
powerful military does not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but is
instead, allowing the protesters to "wear themselves out," according to
a former US official in contact with several top Egyptian army
officers. The Egyptians use a colloquial saying to describe their
strategy -- that a boiling pot with a lid that's too tight will blow up
the kitchen, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to
discuss private conversations.
That was always the argument that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman, who Mubarak tapped as his vice president on Friday, made
regarding the handling of the Gaza border crossing point, every time
visiting US officials asked their counterparts to stop the smuggling
from Egypt to the Gaza Strip -- that the best way to head off Gaza
unrest is to allow a relief valve that permitted them to bring in
The officers expressed concern with some of the White House statements
that side with the protesters, saying that stoking revolt to remove
Mubarak could create a vacuum that the banned, but powerful Muslim
Brotherhood could fill, the official said. While the Brotherhood claims
to have closed its paramilitary wing long ago, it has fought politically
to gain power, and more threatening to the Mubarak regime, has built a
nation-wide charity and social network that much of Egypt's poverty
stricken population depends on for its survival.
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