Obama to Mubarak: Hit the road Jack

President Barack Obama speaks about Egypt during his joint news conference with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama said Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak should do the statesmanlike thing and make a quick handoff to a more representative government.

Translation: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Obama said a new era must begin now, an unsubtle message to Mubarak that he should not cling to power until elections in September.

“The key question he should be asking himself is, ‘How do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period?’” Obama said Friday.

Obama, in office for two years, gave the 82-year-old Egyptian president some words of advice after 30 years of iron rule. The game’s up, Obama said, using language only slightly less direct. It’s time to leave.

“He is proud, but he is also a patriot,” Obama said after a White House meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“What I’ve suggested to him is that he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government,” Obama said. “He needs to listen to what is being voiced by the Egyptian people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly but that is meaningful and serious.”

Obama’s attempt to give his most important Arab ally a firm shove off the world stage marked a full turn from Obama’s cautious appeals for calm and restraint one week ago.

The United States has relied on Mubarak for decades and shored up his authoritarian regime with billions in military aid. He was considered, with the Saudi king, the most influential friend Washington could have in a volatile part of the world and rewarded with military and other aid worth more than $1 billion annually.

The U.S. would have preferred not to see Mubarak thrown over the side immediately. The realization became clear this week that the crisis could end no other way, and U.S. spokesmen began to talk about “transition” to a post-Mubarak era.

Speaking on what Egyptian street protesters called deadline day for Mubarak to step aside, Obama never actually said Mubarak should quit immediately. He clearly hopes he won’t have to.

Mubarak’s main concession to the demonstrators calling for his head is a promise not to run again in elections set for September. He vowed not to be driven from his homeland and said he will die on Egyptian soil.

That wasn’t good enough for demonstrators demanding that Mubarak get out immediately, and Obama knew it.

“He has already said that he is not going to run for re-election,” Obama said, with a pause for effect. His tone was one part law professor, one part therapist.

“Having made that psychological break, that decision that he will not be running again, I think the most important for him to ask himself, for the Egyptian government to ask itself, as well as the opposition to ask itself is, How do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate?”

That might be as blunt as a baseball bat to American ears, but there’s no guarantee Mubarak and his inner circle will hear it the same way.

Khairi Abaza, a former Egyptian opposition politician now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, welcomed Obama’s remarks and said he interpreted them as a direct call for Mubarak to step aside now.

“To me it was clear,” Abaza said. “But the regime in Egypt is playing dumb. It hasn’t reacted at all. It’s like someone who can’t take a hint.”

A rally Friday by nearly 100,000 protesters in Cairo and behind-the-scenes diplomacy from the Obama administration piled more pressure on Mubarak to make a swift exit and allow a temporary government to embark on an immediate path toward democracy.

Two days of wild clashes between protesters and regime supporters that killed 11 people this week seemed to have pushed the United States to the conclusion that an Egypt with Mubarak at the helm is potentially more unstable than one without him.

Obama did not directly discuss the furious maneuvering to ease Mubarak out. Under one scenario, a military-backed provisional government would govern until the first elections in decades that would not include Mubarak. The United States has hinted broadly that it would like to see the presidential election moved up from September.

Any of that would have been unthinkable before a stunning popular revolt upended the status quo this week in a polite, tourist-friendly police state where Mubarak’s cronies got richer as much of the country got poorer.

Obama alluded to the backroom discussions while being careful to say that the decision will be Egypt’s and not its largest foreign patron and longtime ally.

“Going back to the old ways is not going to work,” Obama said.

“If you end up having just gestures towards the opposition but it leads to a continuing suppression of the opposition, that is not going to work. If you have the pretense of reform but not real reform that is not going to be effective.”

That leaves Obama a little room to bring down the hammer later, if he must.

Steve Grand, who heads the Brookings Institution’s work on U.S. relations with the Islamic world, said he understood the president’s hesitation in delivering the final verdict on Mubarak’s presidency. But he said Obama must be running out of patience.

“He could say, ‘It’s time for Mubarak to go,’ and it is just about time that he says that,” Grand said. “At this point, he should be on the side of change. The people of Egypt have spoken loud and clearly, and Mubarak has shown his true colors in these last days.”

Obama has spoken to Mubarak twice as the crisis unfolded. He will probably speak to him at least once more, to say goodbye.

Here’s how he left it for now:

“My hope is he will end up making the right decision.”

___

Anne Gearan covers U.S. national security policy for The Associated Press. AP writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011

14 Responses to "Obama to Mubarak: Hit the road Jack"

  1. Carl Nemo  February 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    “Going back to the old ways is not going to work,” Obama said. …extract from article

    I swear our silver-tongued prevaricator in chief said something to that effect on the campaign trail relative to ousting the rethugs from office, yet he’s turned out to be a Bush lite…well maybe a dunkel.

    How would he like it if some foreign leader started railing that it’s time for Obama to leave predicated on the fact he’s a failure to date.

    Oops I forgot we don’t have one million protestors in D.C. who refuse to leave until he steps down. Again, it must be the water and the mass dispensation of antidepressants for the past 20 years or so. : |

    Carl Nemo **==

    • griff  February 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

      One million protesters in D.C.? Not yet, any way. Spring water for every one!

      Good points. Most Americans never think of what “we” do in those terms, i.e., what if some one did that to “us?”

      • Carl Nemo  February 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm

        A possible scenario: The Saudi’s feel threatened by our treatment of Mubarak; I.E., dumping a Muslim faithed, “Arab League” ally regardless of the fact he’s paid off via foreign aid.

        So the Saudi’s publicly decree that they are going to divest themselves of the 870 billion they have invested in this country also selling their treasury holdings in addition to cutting further back on oil production unless Obama steps down. Talk about bye bye Obama or what…!? There won’t be any need for demonstrators in this case… : ))

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_League

        Carl Nemo **==

        • griff  February 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm

          Now that would be some thing to see.

        • Pondering It All  February 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm

          I don’t think there would be a single thing, short of nuclear war, more likely to build Obama’s support up over 90%, than to have the Saudis demanding he step down!

          • Almandine  February 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm

            Well……….. when you bend over and kiss the King’s ass – ‘er hand… don’t guess we’ll have to Ponder that one.

  2. b mcclellan  February 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    It’s about time to shut our politicians big mouths, EMP.
    What the hell do we have to do with Egypt ?
    If they have citizens in the streets fighting for rights downtrodden,
    by our true doctrine we are bound too, and should stand off.
    Loose lips sink ships.
    Besides subsidizing Egypt’s military these men with spines of steal have pretty pieces to add to the very charm of War.

    Maw said,
    The more you meddle,
    the hotter the kettle.

  3. Almandine  February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    The big O’s gist is clear… move on Mubarak… cause it’s you, NOT me. Should Americans hit the streets in similarly small numbers, demanding the ouster of the big O, only the police and Northcom would respond. And it wouldn’t be with schedules of the exodus – no, no, it would be batons and tear gas.

    Third world Muslims take note… your American interlocutor has arrived.

  4. b mcclellan  February 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Interlocutor.
    Amazing word Al.

    • Carl Nemo  February 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Definition of INTERLOCUTOR
      1: one who takes part in dialogue or conversation
      2: a man in the middle of the line in a minstrel show who questions the end men and acts as leader
      See interlocutor defined for English-language learners »

      Origin of INTERLOCUTOR

      Latin interloqui to speak between, issue an interlocutory decree, from inter- + loqui to speak
      First Known Use: 1514 …re: Merriam Webster

      Carl Nemo **==

  5. griff  February 5, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    “What I’ve suggested to him is that he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government,” Obama said. “He needs to listen to what is being voiced by the Egyptian people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly but that is meaningful and serious.”

    Hahaha. Hahahahahahaha. Ha.

    Yeah, good advice Barry! Try taking it some time.

  6. Keith  February 6, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Maybe if we stopped telling other nations what to do, there would be no need for us to fear Islamic terrorists.

    • Almandine  February 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      It won’t matter… when they stop listening.

  7. hhh799  February 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Obama representing our administration should say that the US will no longer subsidize the Mubarak administration or a Mubarak appointed administrators with money or military supplies and such subsidies will be held in escrow for a government successor voted in by a democratic election process overseen by the UN.US subsidies should be eliminated,

Comments are closed.