Obama On Egypt: "Orderly Transition Must Begin Now"
Although Obama's four-minute speech called for an immediate transition, he stopped just short of demanding that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resign — or even detailing how he envisions the shift.
"Though thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation," Obama said. "The voices of the Egyptian people tell us this is one of those moments, this is one of those times."
Obama met with his national security team earlier in the day to watch Mubarak's televised announcement, in which the Egyptian leader saidhe would not run for re-election after 30 years in office. In his speech, translated by CNN, Mubarak swore he would "die on [Egypt's] soil."
Thousands in Tahrir Square in Cairo chanted "Leave! Leave!" after Mubarak spoke on national TV. Those protestors have made it clear that they consider the president's immediate resignation unconditional.
Obama praised the Egyptian police for allowing the peaceful protests and the protestors for standing up for their rights.
Obama spoke with Mubarak over the phone shortly after the Egyptian president's announcement. Mubarak recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable, Obama said, and the two discussed the "need for change."
In the past week, the Obama administration's position on Egypt has done a 180: the day the protests erupted, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood by Mubarak and the regime, supporting the government's efforts to stabilize the protests and respond to the needs of the protestors. But Mubarak's decision to not run for re-election was most likely sparked by a direct message from Obama, carried to the Egyptian president earlier Tuesday by retired U.S. diplomat Frank G. Wisner.
The U.S. ambassador to Egypt spoke with opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei on Tuesday, according to Tweets from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley: "The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been especially busy in the past several days with an active outreach to political and civil society. As part of our public outreach to convey support for orderly transition in Egypt, Ambassador Scobey spoke today with Mohamed ElBaradei."
Despite his emphasis on immediate change, Obama emphasized that he was "committed to a partnership between Egypt and the United States."
The United States's change of heart toward Egypt, which has long been one of the strongest American allies in the Middle East, has unnerved other countries in that region. Israeli newspapers with headlines like "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam" accused Obama of dumping an ally just to conform with the changing situation.
Obama also emphasized the need for freedom of assembly, freedom of communication and freedom of access to information — a clear allusion to the Egyptian government's crackdown on social networking and Internet access. Facebook and Twitter have largely been credited with sparking the protests, which began last Tuesday.