President Barack Obama appealed to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to make “the right decision” for his country and urged authorities there to negotiate with a broad representation of the opposition on a transition.
Obama stopped short of calling for Mubarak to immediately step down. How and when Mubarak leaves office after three decades in power and who replaces him “is going to be in the hands of Egyptians,” the president said yesterday at a White House news conference after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“The key question he should be asking himself is, how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period,” Obama said. He said his hope is that Mubarak “will end up making the right decision.”
With the U.S. keeping up pressure on the Egyptian government to respond to 11 consecutive days of anti-government demonstrations, Obama said there already have been “some discussions” on the transition.
In Cairo yesterday, which protesters called the “day of departure” for Mubarak, Egyptians crowded into Tahrir Square after prayer services. Demonstrators vowed they won’t back down. Anti-government protests also were held in other cities including Luxor and Alexandria. There were none of the widespread violent clashes between Mubarak supporters and demonstrators that marked the previous two days.
Mubarak has replaced ministers, promised constitutional reforms and said that he won’t seek re-election in September. Those concessions haven’t satisfied opponents.
“The only thing that will work is moving an orderly transition process that begins right now, that engages all the parties, that leads to democratic practices, free and fair elections, and representative government that is responsive to the grievances of the Egyptian people,” Obama, 49, said at the news conference.
Obama said Mubarak needs to consult his advisers and “listen to what’s being voiced by the Egyptian people.”
The president said he made those points in two conversations with the Egyptian leader since the protests began. He said Mubarak cares about the fate of Egypt. “He is proud, but he’s also a patriot,” Obama said.
Mubarak, his government and the opposition must now decide how to make any transfer of power “effective and lasting and legitimate,” Obama said.
Obama’s advisers have concluded that the longer Mubarak remains as Egypt’s head of government, the more strident the Egyptian political opposition will become, according to specialists on the region consulted by the administration. The U.S. is pressing through multiple channels, including the Egyptian military, for Mubarak to surrender power soon.
The U.S. doesn’t “see a transition going smoothly with Mubarak as the titular head of state,” said Brian Katulis, a Mideast specialist at the Center for American Progress in Washington who is among a number of outsiders who have advised members of the National Security Council on Egypt this week. The administration recognizes that the “longer protests go on, the harder the opposition’s demands will get,” he said.
Concern about disruption to shipments through the Suez Canal, which carries about 8 percent of global maritime trade, sent North Sea Brent above $100 a barrel for the first time since October 2008 this week. Brent crude dropped $1.90 to $99.86 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London as of 5:19 p.m. local time.
Opposition leaders are discussing a plan for a transition that would have Mubarak cede his authorities to Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman rather than resign. That would avoid dealing with complex provisions of the current Egyptian constitution that likely would take months to change.
Two Egyptian rights activists, Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty, outlined such a proposal yesterday in a commentary published in the Washington Post, and Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political scientist who has been with demonstrators in the streets of Cairo, outlined such a scenario speaking by telephone to a Jan. 3 forum on Egypt at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“It’s obviously important for the opposition that Mubarak goes,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, who is in contact with opposition advocates in Egypt. “How that happens, though, matters a great deal.”
Obama yesterday repeated his administration’s condemnation of the violence has broken out around some of the demonstrations. He said attacks on peaceful protesters, aid workers and reporters are “unacceptable.”
“The issues at stake in Egypt will not be resolved through violence or suppression,” Obama said, adding that he was “encouraged” by the relative lack of violence during yesterday’s demonstrations.
At least nine people were killed in the violence during two days of clashes, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, citing figures from the Egyptian Ministry of Health. The ICRC estimates that as many as 2,000 people have been injured over the past few days.