QUESTION: Joining me now from the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Madam Secretary, thank you for being here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Candy.
QUESTION: It seems to me that when this started out, and we saw the signs and the protestors in the street, they were anti-Mubarak. Now, if you are watching, we are seeing signs that say, “U.S., Stop Backing Mubarak.” What side is the U.S. on, Mubarak, or the people in the streets?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s another choice: it’s the Egyptian people. We’re on the side, as we have been for more than 30 years, of a democratic Egypt that provides both political and economic rights to its people, that respects the universal rights of all Egyptians. And that is the message that every ambassador, whether Republican or Democratic president, everyone has conveyed for over 30 years.
What happens is truly up to the Egyptian people. And what the United States is doing is sending a very clear message – we wish to see everyone refrain from violence. The Army is now fulfilling security responsibilities. They are a respected institution in Egyptian society, and we know they have a delicate line to walk, because they want to protect peaceful protest, but they also don’t want to see any city descend into chaos with looting and criminal activity. And we are encouraging a very careful approach that respects the rights of people.
We are also very much behind the kind of concrete steps that need to be taken for economic and political reform. We have, over the past 30 years, supported civil society groups, we have supported women’s groups, we have tried to help build up a lot of the elements within Egyptian society that are going to be necessary when there is a national dialogue, as we are urging, to determine the path forward.
And clearly, Candy, this is a complex, very difficult situation. Egypt has been a partner of the United States over the last 30 years, has been instrumental in keeping the peace in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel, which is a critical accomplishment that has meant so much to so many people. So I think we have to keep on the message we’ve been on, convey that publicly and privately, as we are doing, and stand ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom.
QUESTION: The President’s remarks, in which he said much of what you just said, warning against huge crackdowns against peaceful protestors, saying we’ve got to see some concrete steps towards opening up political reform and advancing it, it’s been interpreted here by many, and some overseas, as a beginning to back away from President Mubarak. Do you argue with that translation?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We do not want to send any message about backing forward or backing back. What we’re trying to do is to help clear the air, so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people.
There is no easy answer. And clearly, increasing chaos or even violence in the streets, prison breaks which we have had reports about, that is not the way to go. We want to see this peaceful uprising on the part of the Egyptian people to demand their rights, to be responded to in a very clear, unambiguous way by the government, and then a process of national dialogue that will lead to the changes that the Egyptian people seek and that they deserve.
Now, that will take time. It is unlikely to be done overnight without very grave consequences for everyone involved. So what we want to see is, as we have said over and over again, the concrete steps taken. It took 30 years to have a vice president appointed. We want to see both the existing and any new members of any government continue to put real life into what President Mubarak himself said, which were concrete steps toward democratic and economic reform.
QUESTION: If I could, the people that we are seeing – and certainly that you are seeing – don’t seem like the type that want to wait another 30 years for a full democracy. So –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, of course not.
QUESTION: So, what I – when we look at these demonstrations, when we talk to some of the people involved in it, it does not seem that even if President Mubarak were to do everything you have now laid out, that he is at all acceptable. Do you think that President Mubarak can survive this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Again, Candy, this is going to be up to the Egyptian people. But let’s look at what we have. We have a calendar that already has elections for the next president scheduled. So there is an action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar. Can there be efforts made to really respond to the political desires of the people so that such an election is free and fair and credible?
There are many steps that can be taken by reaching out to those who have advocated a peaceful, orderly transition to greater democracy, where the Egyptian people themselves get to express their views.
QUESTION: But from what you’ve seen –
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s what we wish to see.
QUESTION: From what you have seen, will that be enough? If he takes those steps and says, “Hey, we have already got pre-scheduled elections coming up,” is that enough to keep him in power?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no. Much has to be done. And we are not advocating any specific outcome. We are advocating that the government, the representatives of the civil society, the political opposition and activists begin a dialogue to chart a course. Egypt is a large, complex, very important country. I don’t think the Egyptian people want to see what is a very clear effort to obtain political and economic rights turn into any kind of new form of oppression or suppression or violence or letting loose criminal elements. That’s not what they’re in the streets protesting for.
So, how do we get from where they are today to where they would like to be? It needs to be done immediately, with a process that brings people to the table, and that the Egyptian people can see, “Oh, I know So-and-So. He represents a group that has been advocating for democracy for many years.” This is going to be a legitimate effort that is going to result in changes that will have responded to the needs and the voices of the people who have been protesting.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a busy woman these days. We thank you for your time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Candy.