From various news accounts, it is clear that the White House, including some of its top staff members, worked with President Obama to maintain steady pressure on Mubarak to resign, on the Egyptian army to deliver on the demands of protesters. They did so, despite enormous pressure on the US government to slow down or halt its support for the protesters, pressure that came primarily from Israel and Saudi Arabia. And at one point, at least, Obama got angry at some of those within the administration who weren’t following the White House lead.
It’s also clear that Obama, in a one on one conversation by telephone with Mubarak on February 1, told the Egyptian president nearly point blank to resign, and Mubarak refused. Obama told Mubarak: “It is time to present to the people of Egypt it’s next government.” Mubarak replied: “Let’s talk in the next three or four days.”
Mixed messages aside—including the off-message declaration by Frank Wisner, the US envoy sent to Cairo during the crisis, that Mubarak should remain in power—the White House executed a nuanced and carefully balanced series of statements designed to encourage the fall of Mubarak and begin Egypt on a course toward democratic change. That course, needless to say, is incomplete, although the military government’s decisions to suspend the constitution, dissolve the parliament, establish a transitional civilian government and call for a six-month transition to elections is a good start. Tahrir Square, on Monday morning, has been cleared, according to news reports from Cairo, and the generals are running the regime.
What follows is an account of Obama’s statements on Egypt from January 28 through February 11.
In his first statement on Egypt, on January 28, President Obama warned the Egyptian authorities against using violence against protesters, called for an end to Egypt’s shutdown of the Internet, noted that he’d spoken with President Mubarak, and demanded “concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people.” Some excerpts:
“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors. 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 cell phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the twenty-first century…. This moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise…
“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….
“What’s needed right 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.”