As growing protests in Egypt continue to genuinely threaten the stability of the American-allied government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak more and more with each passing day, President Barack Obama announced that he talked with Egypt’s President and told him he must keep his promises and urged him to restore communications sliced off by the Egyptian government.
In future days, events will determine whether Obama’s statement — unusual in the world of diplomacy since Obama announced it apparently right after talking with Mubarak — will be seen as a correct gamble that benefits Egypt’s protesters and a future stable government, or a gamble that blows up in Obama’s and the United States’ face much as Jimmy Carter’s action in eventually backing protesters in Iran did more than 30 years ago. The L.A. Times reports:
President Obama said he urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to deliver on promised political, social and economic reforms Friday, saying that “this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise.”
Obama called on Egyptian authorities to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters, and told the Egyptian government to restore Internet and cell-phone service that had been cut. But the president also called on demonstrators to “express themselves peacefully.”
Obama was responding to a televised speech by Mubarak in which the Egyptian leader appeared less than conciliatory, warning that he would continue to crack down on protests to prevent “chaos” from spreading. Mubarak did promise that a new government would be formed to address the grievances driving the unrest.
Here’s the video of his statement:
“Good evening, everybody.
“My administration has been closely monitoring the situation in Egypt, and I know that we will be learning more tomorrow when day breaks. As the situation continues to unfold, our first concern is preventing injury or loss of life. So I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.
“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
“I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
“At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms they seek.
“Now going forward this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt and we’ve cooperated on many issues including working together to advance a more peaceful region.
“But we’ve also been clear that there must be reform: political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people. In the absence of these reforms, grievances have built up over time.
“When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise. Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.
“What’s needed now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people, a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.
“Now ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people and I believe the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want, a better life for ourselves and our children and a government that is fair and just and responsive.
“Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization. The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future and we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people, all quarters, to achieve it.
“Around the world, governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens. That’s true here in the Untied States, that’s true in Asia, it is true in Europe, it’s true in Africa, it’s certainly true in the Arab world, where a new generation of citizens has the right to be heard.
“When I was in Cairo, shortly after I was elected president, I said that all governments must maintain power through consent, not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserves.
“Surely there will be difficult days to come but the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful.
“Thank you very much.”
What’s the likely fallout of the Egyptian Turmoil? What’s at stake for the United States? CBS has this interview with Richard Haas,president of the Council on Foreign Relations:
Mubarak’s response so far? There will be a new government but he won’t step down. Which won’t be enough for the demonstrators:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak acknowledged his citizens’ discontent and attempted to defuse the crisis in Egypt Friday night by announcing that a new government is on the way. But the embattled president gave no indication that he himself planned to step down.
Specifically, Mubarak said that the current government will be forced to resign and he would appoint a new one on Saturday. He gave no indications he himself planned to step down, despite increasing calls for him to do so.
The 82-year-old autocrat, who assumed power in Egypt 30 years ago, made the announcement following a day of widespread protests, violence and demonstrations.
Here is how Al Jazeera’s English news service is reporting and analyzing it:
Egyptians in the U.S. are voicing support for the demonstrators:
Stock markets around the world slumped, crude oil prices surged and the dollar gained on Friday as images of escalating violence and chaos in Egypt gripped investors and raised concerns the protests will spread across the Middle East.
Money managers, who in recent months had been accelerating moves into riskier assets, dumped stocks and piled into safe-haven investments like U.S. Treasuries, the dollar and gold as non-stop media coverage of skirmishes between protesters and Egyptian police overwhelmed all other news.
Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index suffered its biggest one-day loss in six months.
Some said the sudden eruption of violence could spur a longer-term sell-off after a strong rally in riskier assets like stocks and emerging markets.
“I think the next two to three weeks, the crisis in Egypt and potentially across the Middle East might be an excuse for a big sell-off of 5 percent to 10 percent,” Keith Wirtz, president and chief investment officer at Fifth Third Asset Management in Cincinnati.
The U.S. threatened to cut off more than $1 billion aid to Egypt:
Earlier Friday, the Obama administration threatened to cut off its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt if security forces in the world’s largest Arab nation continue to use violence to crush the anti-government protests, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
The threat capped a day when administration officials began toughening their tone toward the long-standing U.S. ally. The White House struggled to stay ahead of what Mr. Gibbs called “a fluid and dynamic situation,” saying publicly the administration’s position is clear and consistent, but privately acknowledging that officials are responding to unfolding events.
Mr. Gibbs said a review of aid to Egypt had begun. “We are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of security forces and of all the military,” he said.
His remarks came on the heels of similar comments Friday from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said the “Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms.” That came just two weeks after she gave a high-profile speech in Qatar chastising Arab regimes for their poor record of embracing political change.
Friday’s stance from the administration was markedly more pointed than just one day earlier. Vice president Joseph Biden said in a television interview Thursday night that “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things…I would not refer to him as a dictator.” Obama administration officials Friday avoided naming President Mubarak, referring always to the “Egyptian government.”
Asked if President Obama stood by the 81-year old Egyptian strongman, Mr. Gibbs said: “This is not about picking a person, or the people of a country.”
A CROSS SECTION OF WEBLOG REACTION:
—The New Republic offers five things to keep in mind about the Egyptian protests. Here are two of the five (READ IT IN FULL):
America can’t stop this revolt. Commentators across the political spectrum can’t seem to keep themselves from implying that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, by their choice of adjectives, can “save” President Mubarak. We must disabuse ourselves of the idea that we can determine how this turns out. As Michael Hanna has written on Democracy Arsenal, this is less about the state of our union than “the tattered state of their unions.” We can, however, exert some control over whether we are perceived by the citizenry in Egypt and elsewhere as part of the solution. Our diplomats and spokespeople are now at pains to prove, in real time, that when we talk about stability, we mean it in a way that favors the governed, and not just the governors. As Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post, our policy options are currently very limited: “The most the U.S. can do in the short run is reorient their rhetoric. … People want moral support; they want to hear words of encouragement. Right now, they don’t have that. They feel the world doesn’t care and the world is working against them.” But, with talk of a negotiated departure for Mubarak shooting around Twitter, there may come a time when the United States has to become even more involved.
And another one:
The ‘Islamist Menace’ is overblown. Some American commentators have argued that Al Jazeera is somehow fanning Islamism and anti-Americanism with its coverage. But as Marc Lynch has pointed out, Egyptian citizens, like Tunisians before them, are so—justifiably—angry at their governments that it’s hard to imagine what new provocations the station could come up with. Similarly, concern about the relative strength of the Muslim Brotherhood, which espouses a fundamentalist strain of Islam and has championed and employed violence in the past, should be balanced against three other facts: (1) The Brotherhood has renounced violence and it has been active in Egyptian politics, transformed by an internal debate about whether and how to participate, for some time now; (2) Thus far, observers on the ground report that it is young, secular Egyptians who are leading this revolt; (3) The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition organization in Egypt, is a first-rank enemy of Al Qaeda, and has been for decades. (A chapter in the recent “Self-Inflicted Wounds” from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center lays out the feud, and how it has played out in Egypt, South Asia and elsewhere, in detail. Briefly, the Brotherhood’s goals have been more political and focused on individual governments—and thus less focused on what Bin Laden refers to as the “far enemy”—the United States homeland.) Meanwhile, it is reasonable to be concerned about the future role of radical extremists where other forces are weak, but this kind of scaremongering is actually quite ignorant; it’s also disheartening and potentially damaging to the true democrats—some of whom organize around Islam, and some of whom don’t—that are doing the struggling and dying right now. Americans, like others around the world, are instinctively cheering for them. They are right to do so.
Read it in its entirety.
—LA Weekly’s The Informer shudders:
One of the more chilling aspects of the unrest in Egypt this week has been watching internet access in that country go almost completely dark. The shutdown of a web we rely on so much for the democratization of information is almost shocking.
The biggest question is, could it ever happen here? Los Angeles-based engineers gave birth to the precursor to the internet in 1969 at UCLA and, following its blast into our phones in the last five years, it would be hard to envision life without it — especially in a time of crisis.
The website ars technica takes a look at how a country like Egypt might choke its citizens’ internet access and ponders if it could possibly ever happen in the United States.
It’s not exactly clear how Egyptian authorities, the targets of thousands of protesters decrying the authoritarian rule and alleged corruption that shape the country’s leadership, shut down Twitter, Facebook and thousands of other communication channels.
But ars technica argues it wouldn’t be that hard because Egypt has a relatively small number of internet service providers (four of them — we have more than that in L.A.), fiber optic cables, “border routers,” and Egypt-exclusive area-code like web “prefixes” (3,500).
How many awful, corrupt U.S. client states in the Middle East will collapse under the weight of immense daily protests? The anti-government movement in Egypt makes its biggest show today, with massive numbers of people filling the streets of nearly every big town. Hosni Mubarak’s government has responded in a slow, plodding way but is finally turning to large-scale violence and the usual authoritarian stunts that seem to just make people angrier — today, Egypt’s leadership has turned off every Internet access point and cell phone tower it can figure out how to shut down. Meanwhile, in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden praised Cairo’s 82-year-old dictator..
As you may have heard, the protesters are out in force. There are rumors that elites are fleeing Egypt in private jets, and Mubarak has just made a statement blaming the protesters, firing the government (except him) and affirming his stubborn delusion that he has nothing to do with current unrest. The military is remaining neutral at this time. Mubarak claims these protests would not have taken place if citizens did not have the freedoms they have. It was a remarkable end play, but I’m not sure it will hold..
The test of an Arab dictator is not the virtue of his rule, but the length of it, and to be followed by his progeny extends his name further into the future. In this regard Arab presidents are no different from Arab monarchs—Bashar al-Assad inherited the presidential palace from his father Hafez; Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam will rule Libya once his father is gone; and Saddam’s boys would have shared his father’s spoils until one had figured out how to murder the other. Hosni Mubarak would seem to be an exception insofar as it is rumored that it is his wife Suzanne who most wants Gamal to be the next ruler of Egypt. If the president himself is less enthusiastic that is perhaps because he understands that the nature of the regime and the career of his son are not an ideal fit
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.