Obama Unconvinced Mubarak's Change is Meaningful

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (R) and his US counterpart Barack Obama take part in a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo on June 4, 2009. Obama is in Egypt to make a much-heralded address to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, seeking to heal a wide rift between America and Islam. AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images) KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama and President Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (R) and his US counterpart Barack Obama take part in a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo on June 4, 2009.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama, like much of the world, may have been confused and surprised by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech Thursday evening in which he defiantly told his country on state-run TV that he would not be stepping down.

Earlier in the day, the Egyptian military told anti-government protesters - who have been flooding the country's streets for nearly three weeks now - that their demands would be met, without explicitly pointing to their staunchest demand: the immediate resignation of Mubarak.

At an event in Wisconsin early Thursday, Mr. Obama, in apparent reaction to the military's statement, told the crowd: "We are following today's events in Egypt very closely. We'll have more to say as this plays out. But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change."

However, after Mubarak's speech, in which the Egyptian president also said he was handing his authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the White House struck a decidedly different tone.

Complete Coverage: Anger in the Arab World

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," said Mr. Obama in a statement late Thursday.

Since protests began in Egypt, the Obama administration has had to strike a delicate balance between upholding American ideals of democracy and freedom, and remaining on the good side of the many autocrats in the Arab world that help America fight Islamic extremism.

However, Thursday's statement from the White House is the clearest indication yet that the administration is beginning to throw its support behind the street protesters in Egypt and abandoning its support of Mubarak, perhaps America's closest Arab ally.

Below is the full text of a statement from Mr. Obama following Thursday's events in Egypt:

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient. Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world. The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.

"As we have said from the beginning of this unrest, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. But the United States has also been clear that we stand for a set of core principles. We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met. We believe that this transition must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change, and a negotiated path to democracy. To that end, we believe that the emergency law should be lifted. We believe that meaningful negotiations with the broad opposition and Egyptian civil society should address the key questions confronting Egypt's future: protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens; revising the Constitution and other laws to demonstrate irreversible change; and jointly developing a clear roadmap to elections that are free and fair.

"We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek. Going forward, it will be essential that the universal rights of the Egyptian people be respected. There must be restraint by all parties. Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard.

"The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people. Those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly represent the greatness of the Egyptian people, and are broadly representative of Egyptian society. We have seen young and old, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian join together, and earn the respect of the world through their non-violent calls for change. In that effort, young people have been at the forefront, and a new generation has emerged. They have made it clear that Egypt must reflect their hopes, fulfill their highest aspirations, and tap their boundless potential. In these difficult times, I know that the Egyptian people will persevere, and they must know that they will continue to have a friend in the United States of America."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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