WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday it believes Egypt’s government is stable, but said the continuing protests provide President Hosni Mubarak an opportunity to enact reforms.
“We believe this represents an opportunity for Mubarak and the government to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people and devise a way to broaden the discussion and take some necessary actions on political reform,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of Cairo and other parts of Egypt in the largest anti-government protests in years. Demonstrators are calling for Mubarak’s ouster after 30 years in power.
Gibbs called on both the government and demonstrators to refrain from violence, but also implored Egypt’s government to respect the public’s right to assembly.
When asked repeatedly about the perception that the White House was siding with the protesters and not Mubarak as the crisis rages, Gibbs stuck with an answer: “This is not about taking sides.”
The United States has urged peaceful political evolution in Egypt for years, but has tolerated routine police, judicial and human rights abuses there. The U.S. has also provided the country with tens of billions of dollars in aid since it made peace with Israel in 1978. Last year, Egypt got more than $1.5 billion in economic support and military assistance from the U.S.
Gibbs said the White House will continue to “push and prod” Mubarak to peacefully allow political freedoms, and that Obama does so each time he meets with the Egyptian president.
Protestors in Egypt have been inspired by the ouster of another long-time Middle Eastern leader, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in a popular uprising nearly two weeks ago. Protestors were also demonstrating Thursday in Yemen, demanding that country’s president step down.
Gibbs cautioned against linking the protests to one movement, saying that each country is at a different state in its political development.