Protestors, Timelines, and President Obama’s Understanding of Egyptian Culture: Today’s Qs for O’s WH – 2/8/2011

Feb 8, 2011 2:20pm

TAPPER:  The protesters — according to accounts of some reporters on the ground, the protesters in Egypt feel the need to keep protesting because they feel even if the dribs and drabs of reform announcements keep coming from the Egyptian government, they fear that if they stop protesting, opposition leaders will be targeted and the Egyptian government will clamp down.  Does the administration agree with that?

 GIBBS:  Well, Jake, that's not for me to — as I said a minute ago, I don't — I don't think there's a lot of utility in our play-by-play of this.  I think that the people that are expressing their desire for greater opportunity and freedom are going to continue to express that desire until the government takes the very concrete steps that I outlined a minute ago to address those concerns.  And if they don't, then those protests will, I assume, continue.

Again, I do think it is important — and I said this at the very beginning, Julie's* question, which is we — you know, we — and have said this, quite frankly, throughout.  The concerns that the  people of Egypt have cannot, will not and should not be addressed through violence.  It shouldn't be addressed through beatings and detentions and the like.  And I think — I think the pressure is only going to be lessened and the demands for greater freedom met through a  concrete process.

TAPPER:  But the administration, even though obviously you're not dictating what Egypt needs to do, you have — the government has offered guidance and suggestions as to what the Obama administration thinks would work well and what needs to happen, although you're not dictating anything.

And of those things — one of those suggestions has been you said from the podium that a transformation process, the transition process cannot start in September.  Others in the administration have said that they have concerns about anything being rushed because you can't just go to a democracy in 60 days and also appear that the Muslim Brotherhood would arise in a vacuum.

GIBBS:  Well –

TAPPER:  Let me just ask the question, which is, if we're saying two  months is too soon and September is too far, what exactly kind of timeline would the administration like?  Well, what's the      understanding that you're not dictating anything?  What kind of suggestions are you making?

GIBBS:  I think it's — I think we should understand a few things first, Jake, is that I guess I guess I would reject the notion of there just being two answers to this, right, in the — in the sense that I think you have seen and heard the government of Egypt, as well as those seeking greater recognition and freedom — they've all acknowledged that there are some real and genuine constitutional changes that need to be made before we can have free and fair elections, right?

So right now, in order to qualify for the ballot, you go through a process of getting those in parliament — elections that we criticized — to basically sign up and bless your candidacy.  Well, you can understand that those who are seeking greater freedom might not think that's the best way to get to free and fair elections.

So I think the notion that you either — that what you — what you had, which is September or immediately in terms of all of these changes, I don't — I don't think that's necessarily the case.  I think –

TAPPER: Yeah, that's what I'm saying.  What are you?  I'm asking, what are –

GIBBS:  What I'm saying is there has to be a dynamic process to meet and address many of the concerns and the grievances, to set up a system where the world will watch an election that we all agree is free and fair.  What timeline that takes, I think, is not for us to determine.  But unless or until those that are seeking to have their grievances addressed — until they believe that that's actually happening, the  pressure's going to continue.  That's why we've continued to advocate for a genuine process of negotiation to see this through.

TAPPER: And lastly, in interviews with ABC News, President Mubarak said that he told the president that he didn't think he understood –  that President Obama doesn't understand Egyptian culture.  Did Mubarak say that?  And what did President Obama say back?

GIBBS:  I wouldn't read out what — the specifics of the call.  I think, obviously, the president and the administration have respect for what Egypt has accomplished over three decades and what     President Mubarak has accomplished.  But I think what is clear is what the president said — has said over the past few days.  The people of Egypt have moved and they're not going back to what was.

*Associated Press reporter Julie Pace

-Jake Tapper


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