WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2011 — While the existing state of Egypt needs work, the positives from its recent turmoil are reflected in reaffirmed treaties with allies such as Israel and in the opposition’s belief that elections will be fair and free, President Barack Obama said today in a White House news conference.
“Egypt’s going to require help in building democratic institutions and also in strengthening an economy that’s taken a hit as a consequence of what happened, but so far, at least, we’re seeing the right signals coming out of Egypt,” Obama told reporters.
Even while the region is now witnessing protests in Bahrain, Yemen and Iran, Obama said the American people understand each country has its own differences and traditions, and that the United States can’t dictate how other nations run their societies.
However, certain universal principles do apply, he said.
“We don’t believe in violence … and coercion as a way of maintaining control,” he said. “And we think it’s very important that in all the protests that we’re seeing throughout the region, that governments respond to peaceful protesters peacefully.”
The United States does believe strongly in the right to express opinions, freedom of speech and assembly, and the people’s right to share grievances with their government, the president said. He noted the contradiction in Iran’s reaction to the situation in Egypt.
“I find it ironic … the Iranian regime [is] pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt,” he said, “when they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.”
Real change in these societies, the president said, will not take place because of terrorism.
“[Change is] not going to happen because you go around killing innocents,” he explained. “It’s going to happen because people come together and apply moral force to a situation. That’s what garners international support. That’s what garners internal support. That’s how you bring about lasting change.”
Obama said he hopes to continue to see the people of Iran show courage in expressing their needs for greater freedoms and a more representative government, “understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt.”
Sovereign countries, Obama added, must make their own decisions, with U.S. moral support for those that seek a better life.
“Obviously, we’re concerned about stability throughout the region,” Obama said. “The message that we sent even before the demonstrations in Egypt has been, to friend and foe alike, that the world is changing — that you have a young, vibrant generation … within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity.”
Obama said the catalyst to achieve stability in the region might lie in the people who believe pathways exist for them to feed their families, get a decent job, get an education and aspire to a better life.
“And the more steps these governments are taking to provide these avenues for mobility and opportunity, the more stable these countries are,” he said.
Coercion, he said, is not the answer to stability.
“At some level in any society, there has to be consent,” the president said. “And that’s particularly true in this new era where people can communicate not just through some centralized government or state-run TV, but they can get on a smart phone or a Twitter account and mobilize hundreds of thousands of people.”
Obama said he hopes that as a consequence of what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt, governments in that region are starting to understand “that they can operate in a way that is responsive to this hunger for change, but always do so in a way that doesn’t lead to violence.”
U.S. officials were mindful that it was important for the situation in Egypt to remain an Egyptian event and that the United States should not become the issue, Obama said.
“But that we sent out a very clear message that we believed in an orderly … meaningful transition that needed to happen not later, but sooner,” he added. “And we were consistent on that message throughout.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)