President Barack Obama said Friday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak must presently prepare for his transition from power with input from all political parties, in accordance with the desires of the Egyptian people.
Obama did not insist that Mubarak step down immediately, but he talked about a transition period that should begin right away. "The future of Egypt will be determined by its people. The transition process must begin now," Obama said after meeting at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The last eleven days have seen millions of Egyptians take to the streets in massive anti-government protests. Demonstrators are calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who has served as the president of Egypt for over 29 years.
The protestors were first met with violence by Egyptian police, and then by pro-Mubarak supporters, while the army has largely stood by, unwilling to enforce the government-imposed curfew, but refusing to intervene to prevent attacks on protesters.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that reports of dead protesters number in the hundreds and injured protesters number in the thousands. Obama insisted that the U.S. opposes the use of violence against protesters and observers and chastised Mubarak for failing to prevent this from occurring.
"We’ve seen violence that violates human rights and international norms. Attacks on reporters, on human rights activists, on the peaceful protesters, are unacceptable," Obama said. "The government of Egypt is responsible to protect them."
He said the process must lead to free and fair elections but that details of this transition will be decided upon by Egyptians.
Pressed on whether Mubarak should leave office immediately, Obama appealed to the longtime Egyptian leader to consider the greater good of Egypt and take steps now to push the country toward democratic reform - but stopped short of saying he should resign at once.
Obama said Mubarak should be thinking about, "How do I leave a legacy behind that helps Egypt move through this difficult period in an orderly fashion." "He is proud, but he's also a patriot," Obama said.
He suggested that mere gestures toward the opposition were not enough. "Going back to the old ways is not going to work," Obama said, meaning violence, oppression and limits on communication.
Obama said the new government should be responsible to the grievances of the Egyptian people. "The only thing that will work is an orderly transition process that begins right now and leads to free and fair elections," he said.
Earlier on Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Egypt will face greater instability if President Hosni Mubarak does not quickly take concrete steps for reforms and a transition of power.
"Unless or until that happens instability is actually going to increase," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, urging Mubarak and Vice President Omar Suleiman to defuse the tension.
"There are concrete actions that he can take and the vice president can take toward moving in the path of real change that can lesson instability and can ensure we don't descend into the chaos he describes," Gibbs added.
Mubarak said in an interview with ABC aired Thursday that he would like to leave office sooner, but warned that doing so would foment more chaos.
Gibbs said, however, the mass protests throughout the country that have forced Mubarak to pledge he will leave office will continue until additional reforms and a transition are announced. "My guess is the people that you see on TV aren't going anywhere," he said.
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