President Obama told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the “orderly transition” to a new government that he’s been urging since Sunday must begin in haste, the president said in remarks delivered Tuesday night after the Egyptian dictator announced he would soon be handing over power.
The president spoke in the Grand Foyer of the White House after aides debated whether he should make a statement and if so, what he should say.
Ultimately the president’s remarks represented a further shift in the White House’s week-long walk away from Mubarak towards the demonstrators in the street.
Mr. Obama said that after Mubarak’s address on Tuesday, he spoke with him.
“He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place,” the president said. “Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments, this is one of those times.”
Adding the obligatory remark that “it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders; only the Egyptian people can do that” –- an assertion somewhat belied by White House envoy Frank Wisner who told Mubarak that President Obama didn’t think he should be on the ballot this September –- Mr. Obama said that tonight he indicated to Mubarak his “belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”
That urgency, seeming to suggest that Mubarak cannot wait until September to hand over power, was conveyed along with new rhetoric symbolizing a greater administration embrace of the demonstrators in the street.
The president spoke of the protestors glowingly, a change in tone from Friday when he paired his urging that the Egyptian government not behave violently towards protestors with a plea that demonstrators also behave peacefully.
Tonight, the president said “over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.”
Delivering a message to the Egyptian public, “particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices,” the president said. “I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny, and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.”
Acknowledging that there would be “difficult days ahead,” with so many questions about the future of the Arab state remaining unanswered the president said he was confident “the people of Egypt will find those answers. That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets. It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers. And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the National Museum, a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity — a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day.”
The president made sure to underline that he’d been in touch not only with “our Egyptian counterparts” but also “a broad range of the Egyptian people.” He said the reform process going forward “must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices in opposition parties.” He urged for free and fair elections resulting in “a government that's not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”
In addition to opposing violence and supporting change in the Egyptian government, the president said the United States stands for “the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the freedom to access information. … (G)oing forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.”
The president also had words of praise for the separate branch of government in which the United States has so much invested – the Egyptian military.
“I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people,” he said. “We've seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protestors embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.”
The president began his remarks saying that the world had “born witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country and a long-time partner of the United States.”
– Jake Tapper