Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak must take concrete steps toward democratic
elections at once but stopped short of calling on him to step down
The White House repeated President Barack Obama's call for an orderly
transition of power to begin "now" and raised the possibility the
government might have instigated violence in Cairo that intensified
Wednesday when pro-Mubarak forces entered the fray.
"Obviously, if any of the violence is instigated by the government, it
should stop immediately," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at a
The Obama administration reached out to Egypt's top military officer,
stressing the need for calm to be restored to the streets of Cairo and
offering praise for the army, which could play a central role in
resolving the crisis.
While it did not call for Mubarak's immediate departure -- the demand of
thousands of protesters in nine days of unrest across Egypt -- Gibbs
said a transition must start right away.
"Now means now," Gibbs told a briefing.
Asked if the White House could accept Mubarak staying until September,
when presidential elections are due, Gibbs said he would not discuss
details of Obama's talks with Mubarak.
The spokesman was also vague about exactly what the United States wanted
Mubarak to do, saying "there are reforms that need to be undertaken ...
There are opposition entities that have to be included in the
conversations as we
move toward free and fair elections that we've advocated for quite some time."
A U.S. official and Middle East analysts cited several steps the United States probably wanted to see, including:
-- repealing Egypt's emergency law, which rights groups say gives the
government the ability to detain people indefinitely without charge and
bar or disperse election-related rallies;
-- reforming laws that give the current ruling party an effective veto over who can run for president.
"At a minimum, remove the emergency law," said the official, who spoke
on condition of anonymity. "Frankly, the longer this drags on, the more
prescriptive we're going to have to be just because the public pressure
will be irresistible."
Mubarak said on Tuesday he would not run for re-election, a major
concession for a man who has ruled Egypt for 30 years and has been a
cornerstone of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. But that did not
mollify demonstrators who want him out now.
A senior U.S. official said Washington believed Mubarak's aides were
pondering whether he needed to do more to satisfy protesters and
suggested Wednesday's clashes might convince the military it needed to
pressure him to go further.
"We think there are debates going on within President Mubarak's inner
circle on that question -- or on that reality -- that they have moved
but they haven't moved far enough or fast enough," said the senior Obama
The United States House has adopted an increasingly tough line toward
Mubarak as it has become clear that its ally of 30 years was losing
public support amid growing demonstrations.
Obama said on Tuesday night he had told Mubarak he believed that "an
orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must
But one sign of Mubarak's determination to stay on, analysts said, was
an Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement saying foreign calls for a
democratic transition to begin at once were "rejected and aimed to
incite the internal situation in Egypt."
This seemed a rebuff to Obama, as did the appearance on Wednesday of
Mubarak supporters, some on horses and camels, fighting protesters in
the streets of the Egyptian capital.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Egypt's newly named
vice president, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and urged Egypt to
investigate who was behind Wednesday's violence and to hold them
Former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, who to Cairo and met
Mubarak and Suleiman, was on his way back and will brief Obama and
Clinton, the State Department said.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland and Andrew Quinn; editing by Doina Chiacu)