Positives Emerge from Egypt’s Turmoil, Obama Says

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)

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