U.N. Begins to Engage More on Egypt

A supporter of embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek rides a camel through the melee during a clash between pro-Mubarek and anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Getty Images

A supporter of embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek rides a camel through the melee during a clash between pro-Mubarek and anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011 in Cairo.
Getty Images
UNITED NATIONS HEADQAURTERS -- President Obama took a moment from his National Prayer Breakfast talkthis morning to send a message on Egypt, saying that the White House is mindful that the aspirations and rights of the people of Egypt need to be realized, underscoring the comments from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs yesterday that "now means yesterday" when the administration speaks of change in Egypt.

But the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has gotten more specific, calling for a transition "now," as he consults with world leaders to discuss Egypt and the ripple effect in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria and Tunisia. He added today that the United Nations has been warning about a "democracy deficit" in the Arab world for almost a decade.

The U.N. chief appears to be doing what the Obama Administration does not feel it can do in calling for an orderly, but immediate, transition -- and he is building an international alliance to assist Egypt to do so.

The secretary-general, traveling in the United Kingdom, met today with Prime Minister David Cameron to talk about the crisis in Egypt.

And the U.N. has launched an appeal by UNESCO (the cultural agency of the world body) to both the demonstrators and the government of Egypt to protect the antiquities -- including the mummies and King Tutankhamen gold -- in the National Museum in Cairo, which is at the site of the massive demonstrations.

On Egypt's national treasures, Mr. Obama has also now weighed in, saying, "And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum -- a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity; a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day."

There had been a conspicuous silence by the U.N. -- and no U.N. Security Council meeting on Egypt has been called to date.

U.S., U.N. Wrestles with Response to Egypt Crisis
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As violence flares, lives are lost, and the Molotov cocktails are within yards of the Museum -- already sacked once -- the secretary general and the director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, are taking their place as world leaders, attempting to keeping the peace and ensuring both democracy and patrimony are preserved.

Pamela Falk is a CBS News foreign affairs analyst based at United Nations Headquarters.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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