Clinton calls for ‘transition to democracy’ in Egypt

ElBaradei criticizes US for not supporting anti-government demonstrators more strongly; calls for free, fair elections.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for free and fair elections and the prevention of radical Islamists from taking over the government in Cairo on Friday, but refused to call on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
While Clinton was unwilling to speculate on Mubarak’s ability to retain power, she indicated that America was dissatisfied with the Egyptian leader’s conciliatory gestures to date, which had included dismissing the government and creating the post of prime minister, as angry civilians continued to control the country’s streets.
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“We have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy, and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about. We also want to see an orderly transition,” she said, praising the Egyptian army for “responding very positively thus far to the peaceful protests.”
Speaking on Sunday morning television interview programs, Clinton stressed that the US wanted to see “real democracy” emerge, “not a democracy for six months or a year and then evolving into essentially a military dictatorship or a so-called democracy that then leads to what we saw in Iran.”
Mubarak has been a key US ally in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and in the war on terror, creating stability as the largest Arab country in the region. The US is very concerned that a successor to Mubarak would be more hostile to the US, Israel and other American interests in the Middle East.
So far, America’s balancing act has made for rhetoric not sufficiently strong for those Egyptians opposed to Mubarak’s rule. Protesters began carrying anti-American signs this weekend and expressing frustration that the US won’t more decisively join them in calling for the ouster of an undemocratic leader.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency and an Egyptian opposition leader, also criticized the Obama administration on CNN Sunday for its tepid response.
He called the response of US President Barack Obama and his officials a “failed” policy for not more aggressively supporting the revolt.
“You’re losing what’s left of your credibility,” he charged, warning that Mubarak will soon be pushed from power and the US will be seen as being on the wrong side.
“It will happen that he will have to leave,” ElBaradei said, adding that he would be willing to lead a transitional government if asked by the Egyptian people do so.
ElBaradei tried to reassure the White House that it didn’t have to fear a democratic revolution in Egypt.
“I would like to see a democracy in Egypt that would have a friendly relationship with the United States,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe that a democracy here would not have a better relationship with the US.”
Republican Senator John McCain, who also appeared on CNN, noted that the Egyptian uprising presented opportunities as well as threats. He told Obama, “we have to be on the right side of history.”
McCain also backed the US decision to review aid to Egypt, which stands at some $1.3 billion in annual assistance, most of it military aid, in light of unfolding events.
“We have to say that everything is on the table,” he said.
Obama made a round of phone calls Saturday to Middle East leaders to consult on the situation. In addition to speaking to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama reached out to Prime Minister Recep Tayyi Erdogan of Turkey and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On Sunday he spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The president reiterated his focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint, supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association and speech, and supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” the White House said in a statement put out after the calls.
The White House noted that Obama had asked each of the leaders for his assessment of the events in Cairo, and that he agreed to stay in close contact in the days ahead.
AP contributed to this report.