February 5, 2011

Egypt: Obama Backs Suleiman-Led Transition

Adekunle Aliyu with agency report
The Obama administration on Saturday formally threw its weight behind a gradual transition in Egypt, backing attempts by the country’s vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to broker a compromise with opposition groups and prepare for new elections in September.

Protesters gather behind a barbed wire barricade in a street as Egyptian soldiers check them before they enter Tahrir Square in Cairo

Meanwhile  the top leadership of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party resigned on Saturday as massive demonstrations against the longtime ruler’s regime continued for a 12th day.

State television said those who stepped down include party secretary general Safwat el-Sharif and Gamal Mubarak, the son of the president. The new secretary general of the National Democratic Party is Hossam Badrawi.

Also an Egyptian army commander made a direct plea for protesters to leave central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Saturday, suggesting the economic cost of their attempt to oust Mubarak is too high for the country to survive.

“You all have the right to express yourselves but please save what is left of Egypt,” Reuters quoted Hassan al-Roweny as he addressed thousands of protesters on Saturday through a loud speaker.

The scene was tense, but calm, after another round of stone-throwing between demonstrators and Mubarak supporters in street sides just east of Tahrir Square on Friday.

The energy level remains high as protesters wave flags, clap, bang on metal barricades, chant and play music, CBC’s Susan Ormiston said, reporting from Cairo.

“There’s a lot of running around the square as various groups run to different entrances, perhaps trying to fend off any attempts to breach the security around the square,” Ormiston said.

“We haven’t seen any visible confrontations between pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters this morning, but one more tank has rolled in a little closer toward one end of the square, and the guns are pointing in.”

There are some signs that the Egyptian government and opposition parties may be opening talks on a transfer of power. American diplomatic sources say Mubarak’s Vice-President Omar Suleiman is expected to meet with opposition leaders later Saturday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to a conference in New York, said it was important to support Mr. Suleiman as he seeks to defuse street protests and promises to reach out to opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Administration officials said earlier that Mr. Suleiman and other military-backed leaders in Egypt are also considering ways to provide President Hosni Mubarak with a graceful exit from power.

“That takes some time,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”

Her message, echoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, was a notable shift in tone from the past week, when President Obama, faced with violent clashes in Cairo, demanded that Mr. Mubarak make swift, dramatic changes.