In an interview conducted on YouTube Thursday, President Obama was asked about Egypt having reportedly cut off access to social networks as it combats an outbreak of protest against the government of President Hosni Mubarak.
The president opened his remarks by calling Egypt "an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues," but added that people have the right "to express legitimate grievances."
"The government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence," he said.
Mr. Obama said the United States views freedom of speech as a universal human right - and that access to social networks and other internet communication are a part of that right.
The president said he has repeatedly told the Egyptian government "that making sure that they are moving forward on reform, political reform, economic reform, is absolutely critical" for the country's success.
"And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets," he added.
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the protest "represents an opportunity for Mubarak and the government to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people and devise a way to broaden the discussion and take some necessary actions on political reform."
The streets of Cairo and other cities have been filled in recent weeks with tens of thousands of protesters who have been organized in part through social networks. Amateur video of the conflicts between government forces and the protesters have been disseminated on YouTube. (see left)
The White House is in an awkward position regarding the unrest, caught between supporting an ally and backing the rights of the protesters. Gibbs said repeatedly Thursday that the U.S. position "is not about taking sides" and suggested Egypt's government is stable.
According to the Associated Press, the United States provided Egypt with $1.5 billion in economic and military support last year. The country has been criticized in the international community for violations of human rights.
News reports suggest that at least six people, including a policeman, have been killed over the two days of protests so far. The Egyptian government says 800 have been arrested. The government has banned public gatherings and used water cannons, tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and batons to disperse protests; protesters have set at least one government building on fire. A major protest is planned for Friday.
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