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Five Minutes of Clarity: The President's Speech on Egypt

Today President Obama gave his thoughts on the incredibly complex and potentially wonderful events occurring in Egypt. World leaders have struggled to find their voices in this instance as they tried to come to grips with the potential unraveling of the most dangerous region of the world.

There was much anticipation as the world waited to here The Position of the world’s most powerful country. Doubters on both flanks had already carved a virtually hopeless maze of tiger traps and pitfalls. What could the President say that would speak to the intricate needs of the situation?

In four minutes and fifty three seconds he told us.

Janicket said:

By golly! That speech, it seems to me, came pretty darn close to pulling off the impossible.

…and it got me thinking. This really is a well-thought piece of work. Perhaps not a single extraneous word. Honest, direct, speaks to every point I can think of.  Janicket was wise enough not to try to gild the President’s well-turned lily, but fortunately I am not so wise.

Good evening, everybody.  Over the past few days, the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt.  We’ve seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people.  We’ve borne witness[1] to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States[2].

[1] – We have connected, witnessed and testified to the truth of this event, without condescending to impose a definition on it. We know what it is, we aren’t spinning, and as witnesses we are accountable to the truth of it.

[2] – We have a history together, which means several things, including being responsible to our friends. Again, you could unfold that and talk details, but this isn’t the time for that and any more is imposing our will on them.

And my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts[3] and a broad range of the Egyptian people[4], as well as others across the region and across the globe[5].  And throughout this period, we’ve stood for a set of core principles.

[3] – I’ve talked to Mubarak, and I didn’t mince words.

[4] – We have been talking with people high and low who represent and/or are the Egyptian people, we can watch CNN and Al Jazeera as well as anyone, and we get it.

[5] Yes, I know what the other leaders are saying. I’m in touch with them, I get their concerns, but nobody else can stand in these shoes.

First, we oppose violence [6].  And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism [7] that it has shown thus far [8] in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people[9].  We’ve seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets.[10]  And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.[11]

[6] – All y’all.

[7] – Professionalism and patriotism. A disciplined and effective conscript military is staffed by folks who enjoy being proud of their work and their love of country. Don’t be the kind of loser soldiers you sneer at.

[8] – Don’t screw it up now when you are doing so well.

[9] – The people on the street are in your care.

[10] – You are with the people, as you should be.

[11] – Stay on the right side. You’ll know it when you see it.

Second, we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly[12], freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information[13].  Once more, we’ve seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future.  And going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.[14]

[12] – we support all of you in the square in Cairo and the streets of Egypt.

[13] – stop turning off the Internet. It’s a bad idea and it doesn’t work real well.

[14] – Yes, I know what I am saying. This applies to us so I expect to get slapped with that but it has to be said. It applies to a number of other Middle Eastern countries, and I know all that implies, so get your houses in order.

Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change.  After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak.[15]  He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place.  Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people.  Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation.  The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments; this is one of those times.[16]

Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders.  Only the Egyptian people can do that.  What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.[17]

[15] – Stress on “directly” is intentional. I spoke to him personally and I spoke to him bluntly.

[16] – Not September, now.

[17] – Just to be clear: “now”.

Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties.  It should lead to elections that are free and fair.  And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.[18]

Throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to Egypt.  And we stand ready to provide any assistance that is necessary to help[19] the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath[20] of these protests.

[18] – Real Democracy is the path. Yes, I realize I just slammed Hosni with that “responsive to the aspirations” line, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

[19] – We can be very good friends.

[20] – “Aftermath”, again, let’s be honest that you folks are going through something that, good or bad, is traumatic as hell. Keep your shit together.

Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom. [21]

To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear:  We hear your voices.[22]  I have an unyieldin
g belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.  And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.

[21] – Inevitability. Other countries (you too, Iran) take note.

[22] – Literally. I’ve read some of your tweets and seen you on camera. I hear you – personally – with my own ears.

There will be difficult days ahead.  Many questions about Egypt’s future remain unanswered.  But I am confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers.  That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets.  It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers.  And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum[23] — a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity; a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day.

Thank you very much.

[23] – we recognize the difference between Cairo’s museum and Baghdad’s, and all that implies. we took the other path, yours is better.

There is more direct subtlety in there that those who are paying attention can read – and if you play it backwards it proves John Lennon was eaten by Ringo – but that’s enough bronzing of a gold watch for now.

Suffice to say I’m impressed.  


  1. Shaun Appleby

    That little speech will be remembered long after the commentary has been composted or erased.  A brilliant piece of oratory, as you noted, and a marked shift in American foreign policy, at least as far as tyrannies are concerned.

    All that remains is for the situation in Egypt to come good and the speech will be even better.

  2. DeniseVelez

    for reactions to the speech – had to d-load Google chrome – on alJ English it was not featured but it was on the Arabic channel

    headlined (translated)

    Praised the protests and the army’s position

    Obama calls for an immediate transition of power in Egypt

    so they heard the “now” part.

    Some reporter on CNN was going on and on about how the demonstrators rejected Obamas message and saw it as supporting Mubarek (he was poised in front of a backdrop of the folks out in the square).

    Ummmm….were POTUS’ remarks up on a giant jumbotron…or am I missing something here?

  3. jsfox

    And went nuts when the talking heads started to parse it. They had valid points IF he was talking to them or to the American people. He was not. He was talking to the Arab street and I just don’t understand why so many seemed to have missed this salient fact. Actually I do know, but we have already discussed intellectual laziness.

    • It seems to me a community organiser’s world view tempered by realism rather than a colonial one.

      Hilary gave up a chance to work with Saul Alinsky to join a law firm. Bush’s idea of community organising was a frat party. Palin openly mocked Obama for giving up Wall Street for the projects of Chicago.

      But who had the better education in the ways of the world?

    • I suspect over the course of Obama’s presidency we’re going to see all sorts of issues handled brilliantly thanks in part to his unique background, in ways those who mocked him can’t begin to comprehend, let alone match.  

    • I just woke up, and am bracing for the Snowpocolypse apparently, so I haven’t had time to get to the responses to the speech yet.  I have no doubt that certain folks will see this speech as terrible, and have admonitions for not bombing Iran immediately, rolling tanks out to Jordan, and not jetting to Egypt to pimp slap Mubarak in person, and then peeing on the Great Pyramid.  

      I’mma check the genny again–we didn’t get the ice storms we were supposed to last night, so that’s a good sign so far–because the Chicago area was getting thundersnow last night, and I really don’t want to loose power.  

      It was the speech I expected from the President, and the lack of bald faced demands, and a hands off approach to allowing the situation to mature and develop is the only sane alternative.  If we insist on supporting anyone, it has to be the will of the Egyptian people. Even if they go with folks we’re not fond of.  What is interesting in all this, are the folks running out of the woodwork to say how they’ve always hated Hosne, despite years of not commenting on Egypt, save as an ally in the region, and a partner to keeping peace in the region. Now it is suddenly popular to point to him as a dictator, despite how many years of being in power, and how many years of tacitly ignoring civil rights issues in Egypt, which, in the interests of fairness again, are still better than many neighbors who are closer friends to the US–yes, I’m looking at Saudi Arabia.  

      The tone of the speech hits considered notes.  Consideration is one of the hallmarks of this President.  In some cases it comes off as being less than passioned, some would rather a more aggressive President, but in the end, considered is what we need right now.  And it heartens me that President has the foresight to not invoke God, Mama, and Apple Pie at this time, and recognizes that the Egyptian people need to make hard decisions, as well as their leadership.  

      • Shaun Appleby

        It seems. He certainly isn’t crooning “Anything Goes.”

        As Chomsky spent a lifetime recording the US has a lengthy tradition of not just supporting tyrants but installing them or assassinating their opponents in our covert ‘interests.’ Conventionally we would still be looking at Mubarak as an ‘asset’ which had suddenly devalued.  Obama naturally sees potential value elsewhere, in the attitudes of the community.

        It seems to me a community organiser’s world view tempered by realism rather than a colonial one.

  4. HappyinVT

    that we see thugs hired by the Mubarak regime fighting against unarmed protesters.  I wish my memory was good enough to get her words verbatim because it is quite clear they (she?) is convinced the pro-Mubarak crowd has been called out by the government.

    • …rather than employing the Tianamen (army) option, is deploying the Teheran (basij militia) tactic


      In other words, these so-called Pro Mubarak protestors are, according the Peter Beaumont

      There is no question in my mind that they police, they are central security forces. These are the same guys that were out in force all last week and they have filtered back in again. They are very very recognisable, they are certain kind of people.

    • Many injuries – a eight year old boy unconscious.

      Several thousand supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, including some riding horses and camels and wielding whips, attacked anti-government protesters today as Egypt’s upheaval took a dangerous new turn.

      In chaotic scenes, the two sides pelted each other with stones, and protesters dragged attackers off their horses.

      The turmoil was the first significant violence between supporters of the two camps in more than a week of anti-government protests. It erupted after Mubarak went on national television the night before and rejected demands he step down immediately and said he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term.

      In the early afternoon around 3,000 Mubarak supporters break through a human chain of anti-government protesters trying to defend thousands gathered in Tahrir.

      Chaos erupted as they tore down banners denouncing the president. Fistfights broke out as they advanced across the massive square in the heart of the capital. The anti-government protesters grabbed Mubarak posters from the hands of the supporters and ripped them.

      The two sides began hurling stones and bottles and sticks at each other, chasing each other as the protesters’ human chains moved back to try to shield the larger mass of demonstrators at the plaza’s centre.

      At one point, a small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-Mubarak crowds, swinging whips and sticks to beat people. Protesters retaliated, dragging some from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody.

      Protesters were seen running with their shirts or faces bloodied, some men and women in the crowd were weeping. A scent of tear gas wafted over the area, but it was not clear who had fired it.

      The army troops who have been guarding the square had been keeping the two sides apart earlier in the day, but when the clashes erupted they did not intervene. Most took shelter behind or inside the armored vehicles and tanks stationed at the entrances to Tahrir.

  5. HappyinVT

    Washington reporter is saying that today (night in Egypt) is what the Obama Administration was hoping to avoid.  Obama had a “frank” conversation with Mubarak yesterday telling him it was time to make the transition.  Defense folks have talked to their counterparts in Egypt not really to discuss the military relationship but about the professionalism of the military up to now.  Those conversations may change given how the military has stood by today.

    We may also see how the US ratchets up pressure on Mubarak, including any talk about that aid we send.

    • That might make you feel a bit more scared of camels

      Lot of the sticks these ‘militia/protestors’ are wielding, have knives fixed to the end. Not to mention the 15 gunshot casualties.  

  6. Shaun Appleby

    Reporting Internet access intermittently coming online in Egypt. It feels like the protesters have weathered the worst that Mubarak can throw at them. Still 200k demonstrators in Tahrir, from Twitter reports.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Hosni.

  7. spacemanspiff

    … although for a guy who took as many punches as he did Anderson Cooper doesn’t have a scratch. What b.s.

    The media loves being the story.  

  8. Shaun Appleby

    Gunfire in Tahrir, originally from pro-Murbarak protesters (?) and answered by army (blanks?).  Women and children still in the square.  Unsure situation at the moment.

  9. Shaun Appleby

    Never really considered this but a protester on Al Jazeera just said, when pressed on the transition, simply “I’m sorry, I don’t know what democracy is, I have never had it.”  

    • HappyinVT

      He said that the guys on the horses and camels were frustrated men who rent those animals to tourists.  They went into the crowd to make some kind of point.  Then sure it worked that well for them.  (Assuming the guy was correct.)

      • jsfox

        “And now, David, what sort of nitpicking misinterpretation will you be twisting into your usual Obama-bashing today?”

        I would immediately check to see if hell had frozen over.

  10. HappyinVT

    Al Jazeera just showed two guys dragging two others guys by a leg each down the street.  One of the guys being dragged was like a limp rag doll.

    (The anchor said “something” was being dragged but she couldn’t tell what it was.  Whether the guys were dead or unconscious is certainly unclear but it was obvious they were people.)

  11. HappyinVT

    that if you want to take a government plane out of Egypt get your ass to the airport; flights may not leave the country after Thursday.  Although they are not yet requiring folks to leave it sounds like they are certainly expecting the situation to get worse before it gets better.

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