White House lauds Mubarak's ‘monumental changes’

Softening in American calls for Egyptian president to take immediate action seen as "acknowledgment of reality."

Obama smiles 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama smiles 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
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.”
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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 democratic.
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 do.”
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 Mubarak.
“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.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
At the same time, Obama refrained from sharply criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood, which is looking to improve its position as the current regime falters.
“They are 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 country.
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 demands.
Gibbs called on opposition groups to participate in that process at once.
“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 said.
“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 process.”
Gibbs also said that despite the focus of many demonstrators on forcing Mubarak out, “this is about a process. It’s not about a personality.”
Middle East expert Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center described the shift in American rhetoric as “an acknowledgment of reality.”
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 own.
“When they realized they had zero ability to affect the situation, they made a decision out of necessity,” Miller said.