President Obama is calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to clearly and quickly explain the changes he has made to the government and pledged transfer of power and urged him not to react with violence to the increasing calls for his removal.
Obama was reacting to a rambling and sometimes confusing speech in which Mubarak pledged to transfer at least some of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman, change the constitution and heed the calls of the Egyptian people for democratic reforms.
Afterward, Egyptian and U.S. political analysts alike differed in their interpretations of just much power Mubarak had given up and whether anything could be done to prevent a violent reaction to the news that Mubarak had refused to relinquish his office.
“We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek,” Obama said in a lengthy written statement.
In the immediate future, respecting the “universal rights of the Egyptian people” would be essential, Obama said, and he urged unqualified restraint by all parties.
“Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard,” he said.
Obama was relatively quiet about growing uncertainty surrounding Mubarak’s grip on power in Egypt all day — even as CIA Director Leon Panetta publicly predicted Muburak would resign by the end of the day. Obama would not directly say whether he believed Mubarak would resign and opened his speech at a university in Northern Michigan by reiterating his support for the people of Egypt and once again calling for an “orderly transition of power.”
As Mubarak spoke, haltingly and without outlining a clear objective or course, the massive crowd gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square grew more agitated, and began holding their shoes in the air in unison.
In an interview with CNN after Mubarak’s speech, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, said that Mubarak had transferred all presidential powers to the Vice President, saying the “de jure head of state” of Egypt is Mubarak, while the “de facto head” is now Suleiman. But confusion over its meaning continued to light up the Internet and social media websites as hostilities escalated in the Cairo streets.
Obama’s said it was Mubarak’s responsibility to quell the confusion by fleshing out and clearly delineating the changes he discussed in the speech.
“It is the responsibility of the [Egyptian] government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world,” he siad. “The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.”
Obama also walked a bit of a tightrope. He said the U.S. position remains the same as it has been since the beginning of the unrest: The Egyptian people must determine their government. But he also emphasized that the dire need for Mubarak to demonstrate that the transition signifies “irreversible change, and a negotiated path to democracy.”
“The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people,” he said. “…In these difficult times, I know that the Egyptian people will persevere, and they must know that they will continue to have a friend in the United States of America.”