Egypt cannot `stand pat` on reform: US

Last Updated: Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 08:01

Washington: The United States said that Egypt`s Hosni Mubarak should carry out "real reform" beyond a government reshuffle, as the US President met top aides on the crisis and anti-Mubarak protests spread to US cities.

President Barack Obama on Saturday gathered his national security team at the White House for a session lasting just over an hour on latest developments in Egypt, where new protests raged and the death toll from days of protests topped 100.

The US President "reiterated our focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights; and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt," a White House statement said.

There was no specific US government reaction to personnel changes by the Egyptian President after he sacked his government on Friday, including the naming of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first vice president in his 30 years in power.

But earlier, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley cranked up US pressure on the Arab strongman, a staunch US Middle Eastern ally for 30 years, warning that 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 wrote on Twitter.

"The Egyptian government can`t reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak`s words pledging reform must be followed by action," Crowley said, and also renewed a US call for calm on a fifth day of protests.

"With protesters still on the streets of Egypt, we remain concerned about the potential for violence and again urge restraint on all sides," Crowley wrote in another message.

Obama`s meeting included Vice President Joe Biden, his top counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan and senior officials responsible for US policy in the Middle East.

Earlier, US ambassador to Cairo Margaret Scobey briefed top officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an official said.

As Obama plotted US strategy, a crowd of about 100 demonstrators gathered outside the White House gates, chanting "Hey hey, Ho Ho, Mubarak has to go."

Hundreds of opponents of Mubarak called at a rally in Washington on Saturday for his overthrow and urged Washington to "stand on the right side of history" and cut off aid to his regime.

In Chicago, around a thousand people chanted "brick by brick, wall by wall, we will see Mubarak fall" as they waved flags and signs outside the Egyptian consulate.

The US President warned Mubarak in a phone call on Friday that he must not use force against protesters and called for meaningful steps towards reform.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians earlier snubbed a promise for political and economic reforms by Mubarak, as fresh riots erupted in several cities, including in Cairo and the Sinai town of Rafah.

Obama put his own political prestige on the line on Friday in an appearance in the White House, calling for specific steps towards reform from Mubarak after officials said billions of dollars in US aid to Cairo could be at risk.

"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters," Obama said, after aides said the White House was readying for any possible political scenario in Egypt.

"The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association. The right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny."

Obama said he told Mubarak he had a responsibility to "give meaning" to his promises of reform.

"Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. And suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away."

Officials also said on Friday they were reviewing Egypt`s annual US aid bonanza in light of the conduct of the armed forces and government.

Egypt is the second greatest beneficiary of US foreign aid after Israel, so the US warning that an average of USD 2 billion in annual assistance could be in play appeared to be a significant attempt to deploy US leverage.

Mubarak has been a fulcrum of US Middle East policy for decades, and is a key player in regional peace efforts and a partner for Washington in its global anti-terror campaign.

US military aid to Egypt amounts to some USD 1.3 billion annually, most of which is spent on modernising weapons systems, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The Egyptian government`s unprecedented shutdown of Internet access also came under fire in Washington and from social networking giants and digital rights groups.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 08:01
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