Bristling with impatience, President Barack Obama on Thursday openly and sharply questioned whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s pledge to shift power to his vice president is an “immediate, meaningful or sufficient” sign of reform for a country in upheaval.
Without naming Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama issued a written statement that criticized the leader for not offering clarity to his people or a concrete path to democracy. He called on Egyptian government leaders to do so, declaring - “They have not yet seized that opportunity.”
Mr. Obama’s comments came after Mr. Mubarak, in a televised speech, refused to step down despite intense speculation that he was on the brink of ouster. He said he was delegating powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman, yet Mr. Mubarak remained president and defiantly said he would so until a successor was elected to replace him in September. Protesters were shocked, saddened and enraged.
At the White House, Mr. Obama scrambled with his national security team over how to respond to the speech. In his statement, Mr. Obama challenged Egypt’s leaders to plainly explain what the new changes mean and how they would lead them to the freedoms or opportunities that have driven enormous crowds into the streets since late January.
“Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy,” Mr. Obama said, “and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world.”
Mr. Obama devoted most of statement to the familiar calls by his government for Egypt to respect the rights of its people and to immediately negotiate a path to free elections.
The White House has warned Egypt’s leaders that they should not expect those protests to go away until they respond appropriately; at issue are deep concerns over repression, poverty and corruption.
Earlier in the day, as anticipation grew by the hour, Mr. Obama said that what the United States wanted was transition to democracy in Egypt that was not just orderly but “genuine.”
“What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold,” Mr. Obama said at the start of an overshadowed economic event in Michigan. “It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change.”