Seeming to further ease President Hosni Mubarak out the door – gingerly – President Obama today praised the longtime U.S. ally and dictator, urging him to think of his exit in historical terms. But even while he did so, he condemned Mubarak’s “old ways” of doing things.
“Once the president himself announced that he was not going to be running again, and since his term is up relatively shortly, 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?’” President Obama said. “And my hope is that he will end up making the right decision.”
Seeming to put Mubarak on the proverbial analyst’s couch, the president said that he believes Mubarak “cares about his country. He is proud, but he's also a patriot.”
Noting that Mubarak has been in power for nearly 30 years, Mubarak’s decision to not appear on the ballot in September – a decision urged by the United States government – was key, President Obama said. “Having made that psychological break, that decision that he will not be running again, I think the most important (is) for him to ask himself…how do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate?”
“If you end up having just gestures towards the opposition but it leads to a continuing suppression of the opposition, that's not going to work,” the president said. “If you have the pretense of reform but not real reform, that's not going to be effective.”
President Obama made his comments at a joint press availability with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He said that “some discussions have begun” about the details of Egypt’s transition, and while arguing that final decisions will be made by Egyptians, the president conveyed that his administration was strongly lobbying both Egyptians and others on how best to proceed.
“We are consulting widely within Egypt and with the international community to communicate our strong belief that a successful and orderly transition must be meaningful,” he said. “Negotiations should include a broad representation of the Egyptian opposition. And this transition must address the legitimate grievances of those who seek a better future.”
The president said “in light of what's happened over the last two weeks, going back to the old ways is not going to work. Suppression's not going to work. Engaging in violence is not going to work. Attempting to shut down information flows is not going to work…The only thing that will work is moving a orderly transition process that begins right now that engages all the parties, that leads to democratic practices, fair and free elections, and representative government that is responsive to the grievances of the Egyptian people.”
Mr. Obama said he’d suggested to Mubarak that he heed the advice of his advisors and listen to demonstrators in the streets.
“He needs to consult with those who are around him in his government,” he said. “He needs to listen to what's being voiced by the Egyptian people, and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly but that is meaningful and serious.”
Calling attacks on reporters, human rights activists and peaceful protesters “unacceptable,” the president said he was “encouraged by the restraint that was shown today. We hope that it continues.”