Obama: Egypt's Future Will be 'Determined by Its People'

Senior administration official says Mubarak hasn't slept, seems unstable

February 4, 2011, 3:08 PM

Feb. 4, 2011— -- President Obama declined today to publicly pressure Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to comply with protesters demands that he step down immediately, saying that "the future of Egypt is going to be in the hands of Egyptians" and that Mubarak will "end up making the right decision" on how to move forward.

Obama was critical, however, of the regime's inability or failure to halt attacks on protesters and journalists who have been broadcasting the uprising worldwide.

"We continue to be crystal clear that we oppose violence as a response to this crisis," the president said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "We are sending a strong and unequivocal message that attacks on reporters are unacceptable, attacks on human rights activists are unacceptable, attacks on peaceful protesters are unacceptable. The Egyptian government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its people. Those demonstrating also have a right do so peacefully."

A senior administration official told ABC News today that over the last week, Mubarak has not been sleeping, seems unstable, and goes back and forth between standing firm about staying and then saying that he is not appreciated and should just leave. Despite what Mubarak is saying, the official says he thinks that it will be, at the most, a matter of weeks before he hands over power.

The president said he has spoken twice to Mubarak since the crisis in Egypt began, and told him that "going back to the old ways is not going to work."

"I believe that President Mubarak cares about his country. He's proud, but he's also a patriot," Obama said. "What I suggested to him is he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government. 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."

Mubarak has said he won't seek re-election in September, but will finish his term. Protesters are demanding his immediate removal.

"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," Obama said.

This is the president's second direct comment on the situation in Egypt. He last took to the cameras Tuesday to convey a similar message and tell President Mubarak that relinquishing power was the right decision, but the transition to a new government "must begin now."

Mubarak told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview Thursday that while he wants to step down, he fears his immediate departure would create chaos in the country.

"I don't care what people say about me," the 82-year-old said in the 30-minute-long interview. "Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt."

The United States has strongly condemned the violence that has sprung up in Cairo's Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, over the last ten days, including harassment of journalists. White House Press Secretary Gibbs said they "speak volumes about the seriousness with which the government looks at an orderly transition."

Mubarak blamed the violence on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt but has but has rallied to the street demonstrations. Protesters charge that the pro-Mubarak supporters who have attacked them in recent days are thugs recruited by the government to create chaos. Mubarak denied any government involvement.

The Muslim Brotherhood told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour that their party does not intend to field a presidential candidate or seek ministers in a new cabinet.

The White House is urging a quick transition of power and officials are discussing various scenarios about Mubarak's exit.

"The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition with credible, inclusive negotiations," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people."

Cairo's Tahrir Square, which has turned into a battle zone, was largely free of clashes today, although tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak demonstrators filled the square and surrounding streets. Protestors dubbed today the "day of departure," in an effort to oust Mubarak.

The military beefed up its presence, setting up checkpoints at entrances and exits to the square. But the country's newly minted vice president, Omar Suleiman, told ABC News Thursday that it will not use force against protesters.

"We will not use any violence against them," Suleiman said in an interview at the presidential palace. "We will ask them to go home. And we'll ask their parents to ask them to go home."

Thousands of foreigners have evacuated the country amid fears of rising unrest. Egypt's official Middle East News Agency has estimated that more than 160,000 foreigners have left the country in the last week and a half.

Nobel Laureate Mohammed ElBaraedi, who has emerged as one opposition leader, warned today that protests won't stop until Mubarak completely relinquishes power.

"It's a question of trust, and the trust has gone. And you cannot build trust after 30 years in a couple of weeks so I still would appeal to President Mubarak that he should hear the sound, the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity," ElBaradei said. "I think, and I again I could speak on behalf of pretty much all the Egyptians that nobody wants him to leave the country in any state of humiliation."

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