The Egyptian people will ultimately determine their future, not the U.S. government, and the country is beginning to return to “normalcy” after President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement last night that he won’t seek re- election, White House Chief of Staff William Daley said.
“The Middle East may never be what it was pre the last 10 days, and what it will be is yet to be determined,” Daley said in an interview at the Bloomberg Breakfast in Washington.
Daley said with the return of Internet service and businesses reopening, signs point to the situation on the ground calming.
“This is not some little nation, this is a major country not only in numbers, but in history in the Middle East,” Daley said. “It’s not something that we can dictate, but all of the signs right now are indicating that there is a beginning, at least from what I have heard, of some returning normalcy.”
Still, political turmoil has spread through the Middle East, and protesters rejected Mubarak’s promise to step down from his post with elections scheduled for September. As Mubarak today sought to regain control of Cairo’ streets, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed not to extend his term in 2013 following the Egyptian leader’s announcement.
U.S. President Barack Obama, during a 30 minute conversation last night, told Mubarak that a transition to democracy “must begin now,” suggesting his plan to remain in office for eight more months may not satisfy the demands of the Egyptian protesters.
“That’s for them to determine, not us,” Daley said of a timeline for Mubarak’s departure.
“A lot of this is totally out of our control, it’s as much reacting to the circumstances on the street and the knowledge we obtain,” Daley said. “There’s a lack at times of real information, and you’ve got lots of rumors, and we try not to respond to the rumor of the day.”
Daley said the Obama administration’s response to the unfolding crisis in Egypt has had to be carefully calibrated because of the sensitivity and the rapid pace with which it has evolved.
“No doubt it’s very hard. You’ve got to choose your words carefully, which we have done,” he said. “You’ve got to send the messages of support and at the same time acknowledge the reality of what’s going on.”
Daley said it’s the hope of the administration that Egypt “continues to be a secular nation.”
When asked what message the markets were sending about the uprising in Egypt, Daley said, his “sense is that there is more stability than people think. Traffic in the Suez Canal is flowing, so I think that suggests things are more stable.”
--With assistance from Nicole Gaouette, Nicholas Johnston and Kate Andersen Brower in Washington. Editors: Brigitte Greenberg, Bob Drummond.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at Jgoldman6@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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