U.S. Appeals For Orderly Transition In Egypt

The United States evacuated 1,200 Americans from Egypt on Monday, and the State Department says it will keep chartering flights as long as needed. Behind the scenes, the Obama administration is pressing the Egyptian government to prepare for what U.S. officials call an orderly transition to democracy. The U.S. has carefully avoided calling for Hosni Mubarak to step aside.


From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The United States evacuated 1,200 Americans from Egypt today, and the State Department says it will keep charter flights going as long as needed. Behind the scenes, the Obama administration is pressing Egypt to prepare for what American officials call an orderly transition to democracy.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the U.S. has carefully avoided calling for Hosni Mubarak to step aside.

MICHELE KELEMEN: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the U.S. is delivering a clear message to the Egyptian government that it should pursue constitutional changes and free and fair elections. But Gibbs says the U.S. can't decide who's on the ballot. And he repeatedly declined to answer whether Mubarak needs to leave his post.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): We're not picking between those on the street and those in the government.

KELEMEN: That's an understandable position, says Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Dr. MICHELE DUNNE (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): They sort of don't want to have their fingerprints all over this.

KELEMEN: But she still fears the U.S. is behind the curve in Egypt.

Dr. DUNNE: We're already seen as not having supported human rights and democracy for Egyptians. And we can do a lot more damage now by being seen as sheltering the Egyptian government from the demands of its own people at this point.

KELEMEN: Dunne says the U.S. should be encouraging the Egyptian government to negotiate with the protestors in order to agree on a path toward democracy. And she says much will depend on what the military does.

Since the U.S. is a major donor to Egypt's army, Tarek Masoud of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government thinks it's time to play that card.

Professor TAREK MASOUD (Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School): We should use every iota of our leverage to ensure that the military follows through the democratic process, and that does include playing the aid card. This is the time to do it.

KELEMEN: But James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute warns against threatening to pull U.S. aid, saying this is no time to alienate the Egyptian military. He says the U.S. should remain behind the curve - cautious and hands-off.

Dr. JAMES ZOGBY (President, Arab American Institute): Are we the guys to sprinkle holy water on whatever comes out of this? And I think the answer is not.

KELEMEN: Regardless of what happens with Mubarak or other U.S. allies in the region, the Obama administration will face a different Middle East, Zogby says. Leaders will have to be more attuned to public opinion in a part of the world where, he says, U.S. policies are unpopular.

Dr. ZOGBY: And so I think that you'll see less eagerness to support America, vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. Or less eagerness to support the tough line on Iran, despite the fact that they themselves are nervous about Iran. We're not going to have as ready a field of supporters in the region willing to follow our lead, as we've had in the past.

KELEMEN: And he believes that will be the case, whether or not the U.S. publicly calls on Mubarak to step aside. There are other unknowns for the U.S. in Egypt, including the role of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment plays done suggestions of an Islamist takeover of what has been up to now a leaderless revolution.

Dr. DUNNE: While the Islamists, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood, are an important factor in this situation and will be an important player in Egyptian politics in the future, there's no reason to believe that they're going to dominate the scene. They show no signs, for example, of being positioned to make a grab for power.

KELEMEN: Obama administration officials say they have no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. And while the U.S. wants to promote a more open political system in Egypt, it also thinks that any group that wants to play a role should be committed to nonviolence. The U.S. influence in this process, though, is likely to be limited.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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