While the Obama administration has shied away from taking a direct stand on whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should remain in power, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said it’s time for him to go.
“President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure,” Kerry wrote in an opinion piece in today's New York Times. “One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.”
Kerry reiterated his message today during a hearing on Iraq, saying that Mubarak must put together a "caretaker governance" to transition Egypt to new leadership. "We are witnessing an historic moment in the Middle East," Kerry said at the hearing.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters crammed into Egypt’s Tahrir Square today for the seventh day of protests calling for the ouster of the 82-year-old Mubarak. More than 100 people have been killed in the violence.
The Obama administration has been calling for Mubarak to hold free and fair elections, advocating an “orderly transition” to democracy and stressing repeatedly that the “aspirations” of the people must be recognized.
In his unsuccessful efforts to quell the uprising, Mubarak has appointed a new vice president and cabinet and, on Saturday, he promised to hold a fair election. In past elections that gave his National Democratic Party a majority of seats, Mubarak has insisted that there was no government interference, yet the results were widely viewed with dismay by the Egyptian people and dismissed by local rights groups and popular opposition groups as a glaring example of fraud.
“It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge ‘fair’ elections, as he did on Saturday," Kerry said. "The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.”
Mubarak has been Washington’s ally for decades, proving instrumental in maintaining a cold peace with Israel and working as a key intermediary between the U.S. and other Arab states. The U.S. has supplied Mubarak’s widely unpopular government with tens of billions of dollars in aid while offering only mild criticism of its corruption and human-rights abuses.
Kerry acknowledged Mubarak’s significant contribution to Middle East peace but said that the time has come for him to turn inward and convince his own people that their concerns and aspirations are being addressed. The U.S. must do the same, he said.
“For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy,” Kerry said.