Mubarak defiance puts U.S. on the defensive
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 9:08 PM
The Obama administration struggled Thursday to keep pace with events in Egypt and retool its strategy there after a defiant President Hosni Mubarak lashed out at what he described as foreign intervention.
Rather than delivering the resignation that had been widely expected, Mubarak used a televised address to present himself as a mediator in Egypt's national drama. He also cast the Obama administration as an unwanted interloper in a political reform process that he insisted he would see through as head of state.
Foreign intervention in Egypt is "shameful," Mubarak said, adding that he would never accept it, "whatever the source might be or whatever the context it came in."
The remark was a tacit rebuke of the Obama administration, and in delivering it in a region where the United States has little popular support, Mubarak managed, at least temporarily, to place U.S. officials on the defensive as they seeks to midwife an "orderly transition" to free elections later this year.
In a statement issued after Mubarak's speech, President Obama said "the Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient."
"Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world," he said. "The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity."
Since the Cairo protests began last month, administration officials have urged Mubarak and the powerful military that enforces his rule to begin a process of political reform that would guarantee fair elections this fall.
They have done so without calling for Mubarak's resignation, a move that would unsettle a host of other autocratic U.S. allies, from Amman to Riyadh, and inspire opposition movements often at odds with U.S. interests in the Arab world.
But Obama's message has come off as mixed, and the administration's attempts to distance itself from the Egyptian government may have come at a price.
While administration officials described an open line of communication between the two governments when the protests began, there are signs that the line now appears to have closed down considerably.
In recent days, senior Pentagon officials have largely been out of contact with their Egyptian counterparts.
On Thursday afternoon, a senior defense official said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last spoke with the Egyptian minister of defense, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, six days ago. Five days have passed since Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last spoke to his Egyptian counterpart, a senior military official said.