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U.S. urges restraint in Egypt, struggles for policy
February 2, 2011 / 6:40 PM / 7 years ago

U.S. urges restraint in Egypt, struggles for policy

Pro-government demonstrators (front) face-off against anti-Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square in Cairo February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abdel Ghany

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States appealed for calm in Egypt on Wednesday as it struggled to craft a response to growing street violence and President Hosni Mubarak rebuffed its call for an immediate democratic transition.

In messages posted on Twitter followed by a White House statement, the Obama administration urged an end to the street fighting that intensified on Wednesday and voiced concern about attacks on media covering the demonstrations.

“We reiterate our call for all sides in Egypt to show restraint and avoid violence. Egypt’s path to democratic change must be peaceful,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a message on Twitter.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. uniformed military officer, also urged a return to calm and expressed confidence in Egypt’s military during a telephone call to his Egyptian counterpart.

Analysts said the administration was considering how to respond after Mubarak’s decision to stay in power until a presidential election in September.

One sign of his determination, analysts said, was a tough statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry saying foreign calls for a democratic transition to begin now were “rejected and aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.”

“This appears to be a clear rebuff to the Obama administration and to the international community’s efforts to try to help manage a peaceful transition to from Mubarak to a new, democratic Egypt,” said Robert Danin, a former senior U.S. official now at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

CLASHES COMPLICATE U.S. CALCULATIONS

International support for Mubarak, long a cornerstone of U.S. strategy in the Middle East to protect Egypt and prevent the rise of militant Islam, has evaporated as the Egyptian leader has tried to tough out the protests.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he had told Mubarak he believed that “an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

But the appearance of Mubarak supporters on Cairo’s streets and their clashes with protesters -- after days of relatively calm demonstrations -- have complicated U.S. calculations.

The administration will want to see order restored without compromising the standing of the Egyptian army.

“If the army starts to use violence against the demonstrators, it will lose its legitimacy as the remaining institution that is venerated by the Egyptian people,” Danin said.

The White House said last week U.S. military aid to Egypt, which runs about $1.3 billion per year, would be reviewed as events unfold but U.S. officials have indicated it would not be quickly cut off.

“Our assistance to Egypt is longstanding. It is based on the work that we’ve done together. Our relationship has been a stabilizing one,” State’s Crowley said on Monday. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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