“Now means now," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said when asked about the Obama Administration’s position that the transition to democracy in Egypt must begin immediately.
But over the weekend, “now” turned into some unspecified date in the future, as the Obama Administration backed away from its stance that Hosni Mubarak should resign and Egyptian pro-democracy activists should formally be brought into a transition government.
Reported the New York Times:
The United States and leading European nations on Saturday threw their weight behind Egypt’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, backing his attempt to defuse a popular uprising without immediately removing President Hosni Mubarak from power.
American officials said Mr. Suleiman had promised them an “orderly transition” that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups. “That takes some time,” Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at a Munich security conference. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”
But the formal endorsement came as Mr. Suleiman appeared to reject the protesters’ main demands, including the immediate resignation of Mr. Mubarak and the dismantling of a political system built around one-party rule, according to leaders of a small, officially authorized opposition party who spoke with Mr. Suleiman on Saturday.
Nor has Mr. Suleiman, a former general, former intelligence chief and Mr. Mubarak’s longtime confidant, yet reached out to the leaders designated by the protesters to negotiate with the government, opposition groups said.
Instead of loosening its grip, the existing government appeared to be consolidating its power: The prime minister said police forces were returning to the streets, and an army general urged protesters to scale back their occupation of Tahrir Square.
Protesters interpreted the simultaneous moves by the Western leaders and Mr. Suleiman as a rebuff to their demands for an end to the dictatorship led for almost three decades by Mr. Mubarak, a pivotal American ally and pillar of the existing order in the Middle East.
Is the Obama Administration turning its back on the brave pro-democracy protestors in Tahrir Square, siding instead with the repressive Egyptian military establishment? From what we can discern of the current political situation, it seems that way. Despite his idealistic rhetoric last week, when Obama told the Egyptian people, “We hear your voices,” his administration has recently been empowering the very people the pro-democracy protestors want to replace.
On Sunday, Suleiman—Mubarak’s controversial former spy chief and a longtime military strongman—met with the Muslim Brotherhood and representatives of pro-democracy groups, but failed to agree to any of the their main demands. Reported the Times: