By Kent Klein
President Barack Obama said the people of Egypt have inspired the American people through their peaceful 18-day campaign for democracy. Obama said Friday that “today” belongs to Egypt’s people, after the resignation of their longtime president, Hosni Mubarak.
The president said the entire world has taken note of the history taking place in Cairo. “The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.”
Obama said a new generation has emerged, and a democratic Egypt can advance its role of responsible leadership in the Middle East and around the world.
“By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change,” said Obama. “But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition, it is a beginning.”
The president acknowledged that there will be difficult days ahead as Egypt works toward democracy, but he said the United States will give whatever assistance is necessary.
Obama called on Egypt’s new military leaders to ensure a credible transition, ensure universal rights, lift the country’s emergency law and lay out a clear path to fair and free elections.
He also praised the Egyptian military and the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators for refraining from using violence.
“For in Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence,not terrorism, not mindless killing, but nonviolence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more,” said Obama.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama was informed of Mubarak’s decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office. He then watched TV coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes.
Gibbs said Obama and Mubarak did not speak before the announcement.
President Obama met with his national security advisers before he spoke.
Before the president’s speech, Egyptian reformist leader Mohamed El-Baradei told CNN he wanted to hear Obama say the U.S. will never support an authoritarian system in Egypt under any circumstances.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Joe Biden said the toppling of Mubarak is part of a phenomenon that extends beyond Egypt. “All of this began when a fruit vendor in Tunisia, fed up with an indignity of a corrupt government and a stagnant economy literally set himself on fire, and in doing so ignited the passions of millions and millions of people throughout that region.”
The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said on the social network Twitter that young people are leading Egypt toward democracy. She called their actions “an inspiration to the world.”
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a written statement calling for a calm and orderly transition to democracy to begin in Egypt. She also urged the rejection of any involvement by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups she called “extremists.”
The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, said Mubarak’s departure is not yet a victory for democracy. But a statement from Berman said it inspires great hope that true Egyptian democracy, once unimaginable, is on the horizon.