President Barack Obama’s spokesman called the violent clashes in Egypt “outrageous and deplorable” and said it was “imperative” that the Egyptian people see a transition in government begin immediately.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say whether the administration wants Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down before elections in September in response to the anti- government protests that have rocked the country.
“The Egyptian people need to see change,” Gibbs said, repeating Obama’s statement yesterday that the transition must get under way “now.” That means “concrete action” by the government to make changes demanded by Egyptian citizens.
This is “not some process that starts a week, a month or several months from now,” Gibbs said. “Now means now.”
The conflict in Egypt took a violent turn today as protesters rejected Mubarak’s promise that he won’t seek another term but would stay in office. His supporters clashed with anti-government demonstrators demanding his ouster, and leading rival Mohamed ElBaradei called on the army to step in.
“The president and this administration strongly condemn the outrageous and deplorable violence that’s taking place on the streets of Cairo,” Gibbs said at his daily briefing. “If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.”
Pressure on Mubarak
The U.S. pushed Mubarak to respond to the anti-government protests. Obama said last night that he told the 82-year-old Egyptian leader that a transition to democracy “must begin now,” suggesting his plan to remain in office until September may not satisfy the demands of the protesters.
Obama dispatched former diplomat Frank Wisner to Egypt, where he conveyed the U.S. message that Mubarak’s time in office is coming to an end, to the Egyptian leader on Jan. 31. Wisner remains in Egypt, Gibbs said.
Obama spoke with Mubarak for about 30 minutes after Mubarak’s address on Egyptian television last night. Gibbs said the conversation was “frank” and that the U.S. position is clear.
Gibbs said the Egyptian government must quickly undertake reforms and include opposition leaders “as we move toward free and fair elections.”
The U.S. is continuing to review its aid package to Egypt, he said.