Vice President Biden spoke with his Egyptian counterpart, Omar Suleiman, today, and pushed a detailed list of steps to be taken by the Egyptian government, including making a legal pledge of no reprisals against demonstrators, revoking the law permitting the repressive Emergency Law, and including more opposition leaders in the planning for the future of the nation.
The White House took its uncharacteristically detailed read-out of Biden’s call with Suleiman an unusual step further today, by not only detailing many steps the US government would like see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Suleiman take, but by publicly stating the Egyptian government had agreed to make those changes.
For years the U.S. has been pressing the Egyptians to rescind the 1967 Emergency Law, which gives broad powers to Mubarak and his government that they have used to essentially do whatever they want in the name of security regardless of civil liberties or constitutional protections. Mubarak has been dragging his feet, saying his government first needs to have a counterterrorism law written to take its place.
Today Vice President Biden pushed Suleiman to “immediately” rescind the law, according to a White House statement.
Biden also pushed Suleiman, who has been meeting with opposition groups to discuss the transition, to include even more opposition groups and to invite opposition groups “as a partner in jointly developing a roadmap and timetable for transition.”
The strong suggestions came within minutes of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs publicly singling out and chastising Suleiman for having “made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy, about not seeing a lift of the Emergency Law.”
The Obama administration has been trying to thread the needle by pushing for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to depart soon, but not so soon the country descends into further chaos. Today Gibbs suggested that there was a greater risk of chaos by the Mubarak-Suleiman government proceeding too slowly.
“We have a stake in stability in Egypt, in regional stability,” Gibbs said at the daily briefing on Tuesday. “The threat of instability is in not making that progress, and in not letting the people in Egypt see that the steps that are being taken along that process are real, it's something that they can feel, and it's something that will end in free and fair elections based on a discussion that is had with a broad range of Egyptian society.”
Gibbs and Biden today also more directly blamed the government that they have ever publicly done before for the harassment of journalists and human rights workers, with Biden described by a White House statement as having discussed with Suleiman the need for “(r)estraining the Ministry of Interior’s conduct by immediately ending the arrests, harassment, beating, and detention of journalists, and political and civil society activists, and by allowing freedom of assembly and expression.”
The White House also called for “a clear policy of no reprisals,” saying all of the steps discussed “are what the broad opposition is calling for and what the government is saying it is prepared to accept.”