Obama urges Mubarak to expand freedoms in face of protests

White House spokesman Gibbs: We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days.

US President Barak Obama 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
US President Barak Obama 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – US President Obama urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday to avoid violence and reform his government, but stopped short of clearly siding with street protesters calling for the ouster of a close American ally.
“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters,” Obama said during a Friday evening statement on the turmoil.
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“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere,” Obama continued, stressing the need for the Egyptian government to reinstate access to the Internet, cell phone service and social networks.
Obama referred to a lack of government reforms from which “grievances have built up over time,” and said he had urged Mubarak in their conversation to address them through concrete actions.
Obama specifically called for “a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.” Ultimately, he said, “the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people.”
Calling Egypt “a close partner,” Obama said that “this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise.” Earlier in the day, US officials said that American assistance to Cairo was being reviewed, and that its continuation would depend on how the government behaved as demonstrators demanding a new government responsive to the people riled the North African country.
Egypt currently receives some $1.3 billion in aid, most of it military assistance, stemming from its peace deal with Israel.
“We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a press briefing.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Pressed on the issue, he said that “we are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of all the security forces and all of those in the military. That their actions may affect our assistance would be the subject of that review.” Separately, he urged both the authorities and protesters to refrain from violence and called on the government to allow for the free flow of information.
“This is an important opportunity to institute concrete and legitimate political reforms, to address the deep concerns of the Egyptian people and make some substantive progress,” Gibbs said, pointing specifically to free and fair elections and an end to decades of emergency rule.
Obama spoke to Mubarak late Friday after the Egyptian president’s television address, in which he gave no sign that he would leave office or make dramatic reforms, aside from dismissing a government fully under his control. American officials indicated privately that Mubarak’s remarks did not go far enough in providing concessions to a people taking to the streets in anger and frustration.
US officials have been in touch with their Egyptian counterparts throughout the crisis, according to Gibbs, who noted that on Friday, Obama’s daily presidential briefing – which usually covers a wide range of pressing international and domestic concerns – focused entirely on Egypt. He couldn’t confirm what, if any, conversations had taken place with Israeli officials, but said conversations were being held with allies across the region.
Gibbs also declined to speculate on what sort of government might replace Mubarak if he were forced out, and whether the US had any concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood rising in his place.
“I’m not going to get into forecasting in a very fluid and dynamic situation what may happen,” he said, noting only that the administration was engaged in “a robust set of meetings” in order to discuss “a whole host of issues right now in Egypt.” Gibbs also declined to lay out precisely what metrics the US would use to evaluate the continuation of aid to Egypt, or the timeframe for that decision.
At least one member of Congress strenuously supported the notion that aid to Egypt should be scrutinized and potentially held back in the coming days.
“Before we send another dollar to arm Egypt, we should ensure that they live up to their responsibility to listen to the grievances of their citizens,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York), who previously introduced a bill to convert all assistance to Egypt from military to economic aid.
“Whether it’s Egypt’s failure to clamp down on arms smuggling to Gaza or its crackdown on protesters this week, we need to take a serious look at whether they are deserving of further assistance.”