President Obama called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to take “concrete steps” to back up his promise of reforms and predicted “difficult days to come” as violence continues to wrack Egypt. The president spoke from the East Room this evening shortly after Mubarak addressed his nation and vowed to stay in power.
Obama announced that he had just telephoned Mubarak. “He pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech, and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and action that deliver on that promise.”
He warned Mubarak against a further crackdown on the street protests, saying, “Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people, and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”
Obama spent about a half hour on the phone with Mubarak and had some "very direct" exchanges with him, according to a senior administration official. The official said that Obama was fairly explicit about what democratic reforms might mean but did not impose any ultimatums.
Obama said he has been “closely monitoring” developments in Egypt, and he declared that “our first concern is preventing injury or loss of life.” To that end, he forcefully added, “I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.”
He said that the protesters are simply seeking “rights that are universal,” adding that “these are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.”
He also demanded that the government “reverse the actions they have taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service, and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.”
The president said the United States seeks to maintain “a close partnership” with Egypt. “But,” he said, “we’ve also been clear that there must be reform -- political, social, and economic reforms -- that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”
He also called on the protesters to avoid violence, saying they “have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek.”
Speaking hopefully, he said: “Now, going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise.” More grimly, he added: “Surely there will be difficult days to come. But 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.”
President Obama's statement:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's statement:
Marc Ambinder contributed contributed to this article.