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US Steps up Calls for Transition in Egypt

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (file photo)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (file photo)

The United States is stepping up calls for change in Egypt after nearly a week of massive demonstrations, chaos and violence engulfing one of America’s closest allies in the Arab world.

For days, U.S. officials have reiterated America’s long-standing policy of encouraging political reform in Egypt. Appearing on U.S. television, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did so again in the most direct terms. "We want to see a transition to democracy. And we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about," she said.

Clinton spoke on Fox News Sunday.

The secretary of state did not call for the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but appeared to suggest that Egypt’s current political and economic structure is untenable.

"Real stability rests in democracy, participation, economic opportunity. How we get from where we are to where we know the Egyptian people want to be and deserve to be, is what this is about now," she said.

While stepping up calls for change, Secretary Clinton warned against anarchy and radicalism. "I do not think anyone wants to see instability, chaos, increasing violence. We also do not want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy, but to oppression and the end to the aspirations of the Egyptian people," she said.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s ambassador to Washington, Sameh Shoukry, acknowledged his country is, in his words, "going through a difficult time" But speaking on ABC’s This Week program, he stressed Egypt was already on a path to reform before protests began. "Freedom of expression has been guaranteed. Egypt has been on the road of economic, political, democratic reform for the last 20 years or more, and it has achieved great strides in that regard," he said.

Analysts say the explosive and unpredictable situation in Egypt presents real challenges for American diplomacy. Reva Bhalla is with Stratfor, a U.S.-based geopolitical analysis firm.

"The United States has to play a very careful game here. This [Obama] administration in particular is very concerned about the U.S. image in the region," she said.

Bhalla says U.S. officials are pressing for change in Egypt and, at the same time, hoping for an outcome that does not destabilize Egypt or the Middle East as a whole.

She sees Egypt's military exerting greater control and influence in the days ahead, and thinks Hosni Mubarak’s days as president could be numbered.

"Mubarak’s name has become a liability, not only for Egypt’s allies right now, but for the military itself. I think it has become very clear that opposition to Mubarak is the lifeblood of these demonstrations. I think the military is giving Mubarak the time he is asking for to negotiate an exit. It does not seem like him staying there is going to be a very sustainable option," she said.

The United States is urging its citizens to leave the country, and many nations are recommending against travel to Egypt, amid growing lawlessness in the country.

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