On Saturday, the US told Egyptian President Mubarak, it was not enough simply to “reshuffle the deck” with a shake-up of his government and pressed him to make good on his promise of genuine reform. And once again, angry protestors defied curfew in the cities. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and his administration kept up pressure for Mubarak to heed their calls for democratic change and take seriously a U.S. threat to review massive aid to Cairo. Obama is trying a balancing act, not abandon Mubarak, yet who has been a US ally for 30 years, while while supporting protesters who seek broader political rights and demand his ouster. But Washington has limited options to influence the situation.
“The Egyptian government can’t reshuffle the deck and then stand pat,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a message on Twitter.com after Mubarak fired his government but made clear he had no intention of stepping down. “President Mubarak’s words pledging reform must be followed by action,” he said, echoing Obama’s appeal on Friday for Mubarak to embrace a new political dynamic. Reuters
The comments came just before Mubarak picked intelligence chief and confidant Omar Suleiman as vice president. It is a post Mubarak had never filled in three decades of rule, and many interpreted the move as edging toward an eventual handover of power. And on Saturday, Obama met with his national security team on the crisis in Egypt, a linchpin of U.S. Middle East strategy. Afterward the White House called for restraint, supporting universal rights and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform.
While the Administration monitored the situation, protests emerged in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, where about 150 people marched from the Egyptian Embassy to the White House and stood outside the gates chanting, “Hey Obama, don’t you know, Hosni Mubarak has to go.” Reuters
A top Republican called for Mubarak to hold elections.
“Mr. Mubarak should listen to the demands of the Egyptian people for freedom and immediately schedule legitimate, democratic, internationally recognized elections,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, head of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “The people of Egypt no longer accept the status quo. They are looking to their government for a meaningful process to foster real reform,” Crowley said as unrest in Egypt’s cities continued for a fifth day despite Mubarak having ordered the army to the streets. At least 74 people have been killed.
Egypt’s crisis poses major problems to the US, who had Egypt for an ally for 30 years, and Egypt was a peace keeper in the Middle East. It was the first of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, and also is a crucial counterweight to Iran’s regional clout. According to the US perspective, worse case scenario would be the rise of an Islamist government potentially aligned with Iran.
Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Egyptian consulate in Chicago carrying signs, singing the Egyptian anthem and chanting slogans such as “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will see Mubarak fall.”