At a hastily staged appearance this evening at the White House, President Obama called for restraint on both sides in Egypt, calling on both demonstrators and the government to avoid violence.
But the president, who as far as I can remember has been pretty much silent on the rights of the Egyptian people and reform of the government, made clear tonight that he sides with the demonstrators and that he has decided to throw stalwart U.S. ally – and good friend of Israel – Hosni Mubarak into the Red Sea now that the going has gotten tough.
Obama is trying to suddenly get right with the Arab street. It may be too late. And his sudden embrace of the rights of the Egyptian people may unintentionally signal U.S. support for Mubarak’s overthrow, which would invite a dangerously fluid situation, ripe for Islamists.
Here is part of his statement:
I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.
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.
At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek . . .
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. Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people, and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.
The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people, and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful.
But here’s what Obama said during a brief press conference at the White House with Mubarak in August 2009. Obama made no mention of political reform in Egypt.
The United States and Egypt have worked together closely for many years, and for many of those years President Mubarak has been a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States.
Similarly, in June 2009, during Obama’s visit to Cairo where he addressed the Arab world – and failed to criticize Mubarak’s repression of his people.
I’m very much looking forward in the months and years to come to continuing to consult with the President.
Mubarak should leave. But to do so under these circumstances will invite chaos, which is the friend of Muslim extremists who would like to seize control of the government.