U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demonstrates the world and the Middle East are in “transformative times.”
The mass protests that forced the changes and change in Cairo are “not about Egypt alone,” Biden said.
Biden gave the first Obama administration reaction to the unfolding events in Egypt at a previously scheduled speaking engagement at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. President Barack Obama is scheduled to give televised remarks at 3 p.m. Washington time from the White House.
“This is a pivotal moment, it’s a pivotal moment not only in the Mideast but in history,” Biden said. The future “depends on our ability to adequately understand and engage the truths of our time.”
Mubarak’s bow to the demands of protesters who have crowded central Cairo for the past three weeks demanding his ouster relieves one challenge for the Obama administration and presents another in managing policy toward Egypt in transition.
“The Egypt scene is as complex for us, the regional scene is more complex now that Mubarak has stepped down,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a policy research organization in Washington.
U.S. regional interests are at stake, with Israel already increasingly concerned about being isolated and allies such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia anxious about discontent among their own citizens, Katulis said.
While U.S. influence over future events in Egypt is limited, the Obama administration must press for “change to be dynamic, responsive to the needs of democracy and human rights and economic justice,” said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria.
The U.S. also will have to urge that the transition “be done in a peaceful and orderly manner so that that this people’s revolution is not hijacked by radicals,” he said.
Obama was informed during an Oval Office meeting of Mubarak’s decision to step down. He then went to an outer office to watch television coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes, Tommy Vietor, an administration spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Statements by Obama and other administration officials yesterday indicated they expected Mubarak to take this step sooner.
“We are witnessing history unfold,” Obama said before Mubarak addressed his country. “It’s a moment of transformation.”
Instead, Mubarak announced last night he would cede some authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, and remain in office until elections scheduled for September. He also decried outside interference, a rebuke to the U.S.
Obama expressed impatience in a written statement issued afterward that also called on the Egyptian leaders to explain their plan for a transition from Mubarak’s reign.
“The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity,” Obama said.
Mubarak’s resignation came after Egyptians streamed out of Friday prayers vowing to topple the 82-year-old leader, who has been in power for three decades.
Stocks rose and oil fell after Egyptian state television announced Mubarak was stepping down.
Biden said the U.S. has been unified in reacting to the crisis in Egypt. Democrats and Republicans have “largely spoken with one voice,” he said. That bipartisan agreement “will be even more important in the delicate and fateful days ahead.”