8:00am

Sun February 6, 2011
Politics

Clinton Considers Reform In Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with U.S. allies at a security conference in Munich this weekend. She sat down early Sunday to talk with NPR's Michelle Keleman about how she sees events unfolding in Egypt.

As the political crisis in Egypt goes on, and President Hosni Mubarak remains in power, the United States and other western governments are calling for reforms that will set the country on a new path.

Clinton said she supports the reform process Egyptian Vice President, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, is pursuing.

"I think the Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections," Clinton said. "That's what the United States has consistently supported. The people themselves and the leaders of various groups within Egyptian society will ultimately determine whether it is or is not meeting their needs.

"Today we learned the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to participate, which suggests that they are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged. We're going to wait and see how this develops, but we've been very clear about what we expect."

Yet some Egyptian protesters are unsatisfied with Suleiman, claiming he is simply an extension of Mubarak's rule and intends to keep old structures in place. Clinton said she is receiving assurances from Suleiman himself that things will be done differently.

"We have had numerous conversations with him and others," she said. "Both [Vice President Biden] and I have spoken with him in the last several days, and when we press on concrete steps and timelines, we are given assurance that that will happen."

But ultimately it is not the U.S. that is making any decisions, she pointed out. "It's the people of Egypt who are the arbiters. And a number of voices are now being heard." There must be some kind of a process as events develop, she says, "and we support that."

What About Mubarak?

While the U.S. intends to send a clear message about its principles, whether Mubarak stays or goes is up to the Egyptian people, Clinton said.

"I want to make very clear that we have set forth the principles that we support," she said.

"We are adamant about no violence and have consistently reached out to the army and the government to reinforce that message. We want to see peaceful protests, that are, so far anyway, embodying the aspirations that are, in our view, very legitimate. And we want to see an orderly, expeditious transition."

But the Obama administration did send a former ambassador, Frank Wisner, to Cairo, to quietly tell Mubarak that it's time to go. Then on Saturday night, Wisner told the security conference in Munich that Mubarak's role is utterly critical in this transition process, making it seem the U.S. had accepted that Mubarak might not be leaving the scene anytime soon. Clinton was quick to distance the administration from Wisner's comments.

"We deeply respect the many years of service that Frank Wisner has provided to our country," she said. "But he does not speak for the American government."

"He does not reflect our policies, and we have been very clear from the beginning that we wanted to see an orderly transition." How that transition proceeds, she underlined, is in Egypt's hands.

"There's a debate within Egypt itself — and not just in the government, but among the people of Egypt — as to how best to ensure that," Clinton said.

How U.S. Support In The Arab World May Change

Some Arab governments are more concerned about events in Egypt than others, "but the foundations are sinking into the sand," Clinton said.

As for reassuring those nations of American support, Clinton said the U.S. is sending the same principled message.

"These governments, these leaders have to recognize that they must respond to the legitimate needs for economic and political reform that the people have — particularly young people, who represent one-half to two-thirds of the population in many of these countries."

Over the years, the U.S. has relied on autocratic governments in the Middle East to support policies that have been unpopular in the region. Regardless of how the protests in Egypt play out, analysts say Middle Eastern leaders will have to listen to their public more than in the past. That could present new problems for American influence in the region, but Clinton is pragmatic.

"We want to play a constructive role in helping countries move in the direction of more openness, and more democracy and participation and market access, and the things that we stand for," she said.

"Do we do business with, do we have relations with, do we support governments over the past 50 years that we do not always see eye-to-eye with? Of course," Clinton said. "That's the world in which we live."

"But our messages are consistent about what we think is in the best interest of the United States, which is to have more democracy, more openness, more participation. And that is a consistent principle. We then have to deal with what comes of that." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.