US caught in a jam over Egypt's uprising

January 29, 2011 12:21:34 AM PST
The chaos that has engulfed Egypt is growing. Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with police again on Friday. Water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets could not stop them, the protesters burned down a police station and the headquarters of Egypt's ruling political party. Flights at Cairo's airport were suspended for 12 hours. To stop the protesters the government shut off all Internet and text messaging service. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned to Egypt on Thursday to join the demonstrations, was placed under house arrest.

Egypt President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, came out of seclusion to say he has asked his cabinet to resign, but the protesters are demanding that Mubarak resign. He called the protests a plot to destroy his government and vowed to press forward with reforms.

Late Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama met with reporters after speaking directly to Mubarak about that pledge.

"I told him, he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions to deliver on that promise. Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," said Obama.

Obama is walking a very fine line with this situation. The experts are saying the U.S. is in a jam and you can tell by the response from the U.S. government that Egypt under Mubarak is an ally. Mubarak isn't stepping down and the U.S. isn't pushing him to either.

Hungry, unemployed and tired of rampant corruption, protestors are demanding that Murbarak step down after three decades in power.

At Stanford University, Middle East history professor Joel Beinin, Ph.D., has been watching it unfold on the Internet and talking with reporters.

"The report that I was reading says there were between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the streets of Alexandria," says Beinin.

He says protests over the economy have been building for years in Egypt, but this turn against Murbarak's government is new.

"Now it's very clearly, 'Let's end the regime,'" says Beinin.

And that puts the U.S. in a very tough position says another Stanford professor former New York Times foreign correspondent professor Joel Brinkley.

"The United States has needed Egypt for intelligence, for terrorism assistance, for help with the Israel-Palestine issue, and for a variety of other things," says Brinkley.

Friday in San Francisco House minority leader Nancy Pelosi repeated the Obama administration's call for Egypt to reopen the Internet and communications lines.

"And they should... none of us wants to see violence, whether in terms of protest or in terms of reacting to protest," says Pelosi.

She did not support the demonstrator's calls for Mubarak's resignation. San Francisco State student Omar Ali just returned from Egypt on Monday. All lines of communication with his father and brother are in Cairo have been cut.

"My only concern with my family is that they not be hurt within the clashes and that's it. says Ali. When asked if he thought it would come to violence, Ali says, "I don't really think so for one reason and that is the Cairo National Museum was about to get looted, but people formed human shields and protected the museum."

The last time Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Amb. Sameh Shoukry, was in San Francisco, he told ABC7 Mubarak has been in power for such a long time because that's what the people of Egypt want.

"The guy who decides that is the man on the street who casts his ballot for Hosni Mubarak. As I said inside, if it's not broken you don't necessarily have to fix it," said Shoukry, back in June 2009.

It certainly looks broken now. On Saturday, Omar Ali plans to join a protest of the Murbarak government, not in Egypt but in San Francisco. It's set for noon at corner of Montgomery and Market.

The U.S. was considering holding back aid to Egypt, but they had promised that money to Egypt. It is over a $1 billion, the same way they promised it to Israel if both countries can take part in the Israel-Egypt peace accord. So if they hold it back from Egypt, they also have to hold it back from Israel and that can get very complex.