President Obama on Egypt's Future: "Suppression is Not Going to Work"

This afternoon President Obama and Prime Minister Harper of Canada met to "reaffirm our extraordinary friendship and cooperation," as the President put it.  In a joint press conference afterwards, the President took a question on the future of Egypt:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have had two conversations with President Mubarak since this crisis in Egypt began, and each time I've emphasized the fact that the future of Egypt is going to be in the hands of Egyptians.  It is not us who will determine that future.  But I have also said that in light of what’s happened over the last two weeks, going back to the old ways is not going to work.  Suppression is not going to work.  Engaging in violence is not going to work.  Attempting to shut down information flows is not going to work. 

In order for Egypt to have a bright future -- which I believe it can have -- the only thing that will work is moving a orderly transition process that begins right now, that engages all the parties, that leads to democratic practices, fair and free elections, a representative government that is responsive to the grievances of the Egyptian people.

Now, I believe that President Mubarak cares about his country.  He is proud, but he’s also a patriot.  And what I've suggested to him is, is that he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government.  He needs to listen to what’s being voiced by the Egyptian people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly, but that is meaningful and serious. 

And I believe that -- he’s already said that he’s not going to run for reelection.  This is somebody who’s been in power for a very long time in Egypt.  Having made that psychological break, that decision that he will not be running again, I think the most important for him to ask himself, for the Egyptian government to ask itself, as well as the opposition to ask itself, is how do we make that transition effective and lasting and legitimate.

And as I said before, that's not a decision ultimately the United States makes or any country outside of Egypt makes.  What we can do, though, is affirm the core principles that are going to be involved in that transition.  If you end up having just gestures towards the opposition but it leads to a continuing suppression of the opposition, that's not going to work.  If you have the pretense of reform but not real reform, that's not going to be effective. 

And as I said before, once the President himself announced that he was not going to be running again, and since his term is up relatively shortly, the key question he should be asking himself is, how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period.  And my hope is, is that he will end up making the right decision.

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