In remarks immediately criticized some observers as too soft, President Barack Obama called upon Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to refrain from “any violence against peaceful protesters,” but did not call for him to step down.
Obama also urged authorities to restore Internet and cell phone service, and to ensure Egyptians’ civil rights.
Obama pledged 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.”
Yet it is precisely on that point -- the administration’s apparent reluctance to challenge the Mubarak regime and side with the protesters seeking freedom from Mubarak’s 30-year reign -- that has left some many rebels disillusioned with the U.S. reaction to the unrest.
“They want [Obama] to be more behind the people, more prepared to take a much firmer line with President Mubarak than this appears to be. I think there’s going to be a good deal of disappointment,” said CNN’s Nic Robertson.
Egyptians’ frustrations with the United States will not be helped by rumors circulating in Cairo that the tear gas canisters police used to barrage protesters bear the markings: “Made in the U.S.A.”
ABC and CBS both reported that demonstrators provided photo images of canisters with the U.S.A. markings. The validity of the images has not been verified. But protesters are well aware that the United States provides $1.3 billion per year in military financing to Egypt. Earlier remarks from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden praising the “stability” of Egypt and insisting that he is not a dictator has further confused protesters who question which side of the struggle the United States is on.
Analysts point out, however, that there is no assurance, even if Mubarak is forced from office, that democratic forces ultimately would prevail in a nation where by some estimates the radical Muslim Brotherhood organization would control up to 30 percent of the popular vote.
Obama’s brief remarks came shortly after Mubarak addressed his country, which has been caught up in civil unrest and turmoil in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. In his speech, Mubarak announced that he would fire the ministers who run his government, but would remain in power himself.
Immediately after Mubarak’s remarks, which came after midnight in Egypt, protesters marched to the ministry of information that controls the nation’s media outlets in violation of the government-imposed curfew. They stood outside the building and chanted that Mubarak had to go.
CNN analyst and Time Magazine editor-at-large Fareed Zakaria called it a “tough” speech which offered no substantial concessions after five days of escalating turmoil and violence. Zakaria added that it is reasonable to assume the Egyptian military, which is considered the ultimate power broker in the nation’s affairs, fully concurred with Mubarak’s address. Mubarak was a career officer in the Egyptian Air Force prior to his career in politics.
In his speech Mubarak defended the way his police force reacted to the demonstrators. He expressed regret for the innocent victims and casualties on both sides of the clashes that have occurred, and cast himself as the protector of the nation.
“I will always adhere to society and the right of freedom and expression,” he said, “so long as it is within the tolerance of law and constitution. There is a fine line separating freedom from chaos.”
Mubarak’s address left protesters, who had hoped that he might voluntarily accept limits on his power and refute his heirs’ right to succeed him in a dynasty, angry and bitterly disappointed.
A Newsmax source in Cairo who runs a business there, identified only as Ahmed to protect him from any reprisals, told Newsmax he was “shocked” that Mubarak was not more forthcoming.
“He knows that the people are looking for several basic demands, like touching the topic of his son [Gamal] and him being ousted completely from Egyptian political life, and he did not touch it.
“He did not touch anything about the illegitimate Parliament, and he did not mention anything about him not running anymore for the presidency, because the presidential elections will be this year in October. So he did not mention any of the three critical issues that the people were looking for,” he said.
Mubarak said he would disband the cabinet and appoint another group of ministers tomorrow. Ahmed called this “something that does not concern the Egyptians at all.
Overall he told Newsmax the Mubarak response was “very frustrating and shocking at the same time.” Many of his fellow protesters apparently felt the same way, as an angry group immediately marched on the information ministry building to make their feelings known.
Mubarak’s speech appears to signify that the battle lines are drawn. When Egypt’s extremely unpopular police force was routed by the large crowds on Friday, the Egyptian military, which has the respect and admiration of many citizens, moved in to replace them.
The soldiers, some of them riding in tanks, did not take any action to stop the protests or punish civilians who wandered out after the government-imposed curfew. Several soldiers told people they had been sent into Cairo to protect the citizens from the police. Tonight and tomorrow, as news spreads of Mubarak’s unyielding speech, Egyptian protesters may learn one way or another just how far the military is willing to go to enforce the president’s will.
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