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February 10, 2011

Obama Delivers Stronger Message on Egypt

President Obama is urging the Egyptian government to spell out in unambiguous terms the process it is pursuing leading to a credible and genuine democracy. The White House delivered a new and stronger message as Mr. Obama and his advisers cope with developments after President Hosni Mubarak declined to step down.

The president and his administration began Thursday with some optimism amid indications apparently received from Egyptian officials in Cairo that President Mubarak would announce he was stepping down, meeting the demands of tens of thousands of protesters.

In remarks in the state of Michigan, Mr. Obama pointed to a "moment of transformation" that he said was being driven by a new generation of Egyptians, saying that going forward the U.S. will continue to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy.

"They have turned out in extraordinary numbers, representing all ages and all walks of life, but it is young people who have been at the forefront, a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard," said Obama.

After watching Mr. Mubarak's speech on Air Force One returning to Washington, President Obama arrived back at the White House and immediately went into a meeting with his national security team.

The optimism in Mr. Obama's earlier statement was transformed later into much stronger tone after the Mubarak speech.  The Egyptian government, said Mr. Obama, had not seized the opportunity to put forward a "credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy."

Saying too many Egyptians remain "unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy", the president urged Egyptian leaders to speak clearly to their people and the world."

On Thursday, President Mubarak spoke of support for constitutional changes and a road map leading to fair elections in September, but refused to step down, while delegating certain powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egypt's Ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, told U.S. television networks Mr. Mubarak had transferred all executive powers to Mr. Suleiman who was de facto president with all authority of the presidency under the Constitution.

The ambassador said three key powers -  power to dissolve parliament, to fire the Cabinet, or make amendments to the Constitution - were now also not in Mr. Mubarak's hands.  

In remarks to CNN on Thursday, the Egyptian reform leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, described the Mubarak speech as "an act of deception on a grand scale" adding that the Egyptian people would accept neither Mr. Mubarak nor Mr. Suleiman.

Again on Thursday President Obama did not specifically call for President Mubarak to step down reapeating the U.S. position that only the Egyptian people can determine their political future.

Repeating his call for restraint by all parties, Mr. Obama said the U.S. supports "core principles" and "universal rights" of Egypt's people on the way to "irreversible political change" and meaningful political negotiations involving Egypt's broad opposition and civil society.

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