The furious protests in Egypt drew the unparalleled attention of leaders who were at the World Economic Forum, with several calling on Egypt to guarantee freedoms of its residents and avoid violence.
Many European governments also issued statements expressing deep concern over the unrest and urging Egypt’s autocratic government to listen to the protesters’ anger over widespread corruption and economic stagnation.
In Davos, participants in one session on energy security emerged asking about the latest news from Egypt.
The head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Angel Gurria, told the AP, he considered the economic impact of the instability in Egypt. “Anything that threatens development is a concern for us,” he said.
The chief of the U.N. education agency said she “can only deplore” Egypt’s cutoff of Internet service. “We are very attached to freedom of information,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova told the AP.
Joining the chorus was Amnesty International, whose secretary general, Salil Shetty, called the protests “a wake-up call” to those in Davos.
“It is time the rhetoric on human rights and reform delivered here is matched with genuine steps to uphold the rights of people,” he said.
Speaking of the protesters, Mr. Shetty said their “voice and demands must be listened to, not only in Egypt but also by the world leaders gathered here. Those in power must be held to account for their failure to respect human rights.”
Demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30 years in power, inspired by the popular uprising that ousted the leader of Tunisia earlier this month, are posing the biggest challenge to the Egyptian government in decades.
Mr. Shetty’s remarks were echoed by others.
“I’m calling upon all involved, and especially the Egyptian government and the president, to allow peaceful demonstrations, to give the freedom of opinion a chance,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We have to come to a peaceful dialogue in Egypt because the stability of the country is of extraordinary importance.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pressed Egypt to safeguard freedom of speech and association, even as the country’s military deployed to the streets and Internet connections were cut to quell protests.
“I believe that one of the ground principles of democracy should be to protect the freedom of speech of the people,” Mr. Ban said when asked about the disruption of Internet and cell-phone data service in parts of the country.
Icelandic President Olafur R. Grimsson said the protests that have blossomed in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt were a clear sign that the old ways of state control were no longer in play.
“It demonstrates that modern information technology is empowering people everywhere. No longer can rulers rely on established systems or armies or old-fashioned mechanisms of state power to prevent events like that from happening,” he said. “From that point of view, I think these events carry a strong message to every nation.”
Mr. Ban said Middle East leaders should view the protests as a chance to address the “legitimate concerns” of their people and urged authorities to refrain from violence against demonstrators.
“All concerned people or leaders should ensure that the situation in that region, and particularly now in Egypt, does not and should not lead to further violence,” Mr. Ban said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was concerned what the protests could mean for Egyptian elections this fall.
“They have a presidential elections in September and it will be of critical importance how those elections are prepared and ran,” he said.
In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said law and order must be maintained to help restore stability and “find solutions to problems that have emerged.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said Egypt needs social and political reforms. “Only dialogue and democratic processes can successfully and sustainably address the population’s anger,” he said.
In Rome, Italy’s Foreign Ministry called for an end to the violence and called for “the respect of liberties of freedom, expression and communication, including the right to peaceful demonstration.” It said it considered Egypt’s stability important for the entire Mideast region.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen told reporters Egypt’s protests showed that unemployment among the young is a problem that must be rectified.
“It’s more difficult if you (do) not have the possibilities in a democratic society, especially in the countries where you can have different ways to participate in the society,” she said. “So, let’s hope ... it’s going to go to the democratic side.”
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said, “Only dialogue between all the parties will permit a significant and positive evolution of the situation in order to take into account the aspiration for more freedom and democracy that is being expressed.”