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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 01/29/2011

Obama and Mubarak and democracy--an accounting

By Glenn Kessler

"He's on several occasions directly confronted President Mubarak on it. And pushed him on the need for political reform"
--White House senior adviser David Axelrod, January 28, 2011

With mass protests calling for the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's three decades of autocratic rule, the White House insists that President Obama has been a forceful prod for reform in Egypt. Without access to transcripts, it is impossible to know exactly what Obama and Mubarak have said to one another behind closed doors or in private phone conversations. But one indication of whether pressing democracy was important to the administration is the public description of their conversations, either in press statements or by the president himself. The White House spokesman has on occasion made sharp statements about rights in Egypt, but words spoken by the president or the secretary of state give the most important signals.


Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States, critical to the efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. But relations cooled during the Bush administration, as U.S. officials publicly pressed Mubarak to allow for multi-party presidential elections and to release prominent dissidents. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even canceled a planned visit to Egypt and suspended $200 million in aid to signal her displeasure at the continued jailing of Ayman Nour, who hoped to challenge Mubarak in the presidential contest. When Rice finally visited Egypt, she emphasized: "We look to the Egyptians and the Egyptian people to also take a major role in leading reform in this region."

But the Bush administration's ardor for greater democracy in the Middle East cooled after the unexpected victory of the militant Islamist group Hamas in Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. Rice muted her public protests after Nour was jailed yet again and Mubarak systematically dismantled a nascent democracy movement by pushing through constitutional amendments that limited opposition parties, suspended judicial supervision of elections and enshrined draconian police powers. Near the end of Bush's term, the Egyptians felt so confident of their position that Rice was told she couldn't visit Egypt until she waived congressional restrictions on $100 million in military aid, which she did.

When Obama took office, the administration's priority was reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. So, in public statements, references to democracy and reform were further muted. On her first visit to Egypt, shortly after she became the chief U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissed the importance of a State Department report on the human rights situation in Egypt: "We issue these reports on every country," she told Egyptian television on March 2, 2009. "We consider Egypt to be a friend."

Asked whether the concerns raised in the report might prevent a visit by the Egyptian autocrat to the United States, Clinton replied. "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States." Cables released by Wikileaks indicate that the State Department advised Clinton not even to raise the case of Nour, who had been recently released from jail.

White House Statements

The pattern continued through much of the Obama administration. Here is a collection of the official White House statements on meetings and phone calls between the two presidents:

June 4, 2009: President Obama's first meeting with Mubarak in Cairo. No mention of reform in Egypt. Obama told reporters: "As the President has indicated, we discussed the situation with Israel and the Palestinians. We discussed how we can move forward in a constructive way that brings about peace and prosperity for all people in the region. And I emphasized to him that America is committed to working in partnership with the countries in the region so that all people can meet their aspirations."

[NOTE: On that same day, Obama gave a speech in Cairo. Not mentioning Egypt specifically, he said: "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere."]

August 3, 2009: White House announcement of upcoming meeting between Obama and Mubarak. No mention of reform in Egypt. "The two leaders will discuss the full range of issues of common concern - including Middle East peace, combating extremism and other regional threats, and promoting reform across the Arab world - as well as how to strengthen the bilateral relationship."

August 18, 2009: Meeting of the two leaders with the media. No mention of reform in Egypt by Obama. Obama gives a lengthy description of the topics they discussed, including Middle East peace, economic cooperation, even polio eradication. He does not mention reform or democracy. Mubarak, however, brings up reform: "We discussed the issue of reform inside Egypt. And I told to President Obama very frankly and very friendly that I have entered into the elections based on a platform that included reforms, and therefore we have started to implement some of it and we still have two more years to implement it."

September 1, 2010: White House statement on meeting with President Mubarak at the White House. Reform in Egypt is mentioned. Much of the statement dealt the Middle East peace but at the end it noted: "President Obama reaffirmed the importance of a vibrant civil society, open political competition, and credible and transparent elections in Egypt. The President welcomes commitments Egypt has made as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review." The headline on the official photograph of the meeting was titled: "Working Towards Middle East Peace."

January 18, 2011: White House statement on a phone call between Obama and Mubarak. No mention of need for reforms in Egypt, though the two men discussed the overthrow of the government in Tunisia: "The President raised the latest developments in Tunisia, and shared with President Mubarak that the United States is calling for calm and an end to violence, and for the interim government of Tunisia to uphold universal human rights and hold free and fair elections in order to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people."

The first direct call for reform in Egypt from the president's lips came on January 28, 2011, after Mubarak announced he was forcing his government to resign in the wake of mass demonstrations. Obama said: "When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise."

The Bottom Line

Not matter what was said in private, or how forcefully, the public message sent by the Obama administration over the past two years was that democracy and human rights in Egypt was not a top priority. When given the opportunity to use the biggest megaphone in the world--the voice of the president of the United States--the words were whispered, if said at all.

Follow The Fact Checker on Twitter @GlennKesslerWP

By Glenn Kessler  | January 29, 2011; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama, Middle East, Other Foreign Policy, issue context  
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Next: Obama's diplomatic balancing act on Egypt


Either remove this story or take its notice off your homepage. This story goes against what the President stands for so please replace it with a positive story.

Posted by: llrllr | January 29, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Given the Obama and Mubarak diplomacy of free and open talks and turning the U.S. page to friendliness with the Muslim world and their great religion of Islam, what happened? Why didn’t the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt or Hillary Clinton see this political crisis in Egypt coming?

The U.S. cannot blame Egypt’s state of anarchy all on Mubarak. Sure the people are poor and feel like they are being ignored by government but that is not an excuse for violence. The poor Muslim people should pull themselves together and organize peacefully and articulate a bid to control government to their economic benefits in Egypt.

Posted by: klausdmk | January 29, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

No, Mr. Kessler. Obama realized going through the charade had become pointless. This is the bottom line; as the Post reported in another story today:

"While the outcome of the unrest in Egypt could have enormous implications for regional security, longtime Middle Eastern analysts said there was little the administration can do to directly affect events.

'What strikes me is how irrelevant we have become,' said Robert Grenier, a retired CIA officer who spent 24 years specializing the Middle East and South Asia and now is chairman of ERG Partners, a financial and strategic advisory firm. 'The people behind the current protests in Tunisia and Egypt certainly don't look to the United States for any kind of support, moral or otherwise.'"

And for those who worry about Islamic extremism, this just yesterday:

"'What happened in Iran is clearly not going to happen in these other countries,' said John P. Entelis, director of Fordham University's Middle East Studies Program. 'But I don't see how a post-Mubarak or post-Saleh government could succeed if it doesn't have some Islamic presence.'"

Posted by: faithfulservant3 | January 29, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

It's really so amusing to see how the Post and other US media push the US into doing Israel's bidding, and then have the chutzpah to autopsy the tragic results and blame it on others. Egypt is not "key to the peace process"--the Mubarak regime, like Jordan's, has simply been bought off so it will cooperate with Israel in its policing of the Palestinians. Talk of democracy and reform by these neo-conservatives is baloney; they know if people in the Arab world had the choice their governments would not serve as Israeli stooges. They also know that if they ever opened the media debate in the U.S. beyond the Kesslers, Blitzers, Krauthammers and Dershowitzes who reign, Mubarak-like, over it now, the people of the United States would do the same.

Posted by: johnmoran175 | January 29, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

"Mubarak Regime Finished"

..."America must stand with the Protesters, and the Protesters "MUST STAND THERE GROUND!

Posted by: etsu2010 | January 29, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I am a student of history as they say. Foreign policy post WW 2, has not been our strong suit, as they say. With the advent of a wide open internet, and all its tentacles, we should not talk out of both sides of our mouth. We support dictators, and the whole world knows it. Rhetoric about Democracy is ill advised, that is not why we send 1.5 billion dollars to Egypt. That is not why we train their military officers. We need instead, to send a message, the Middle East need solve their own issues, as long as it does not effect our interest. Saudi Oil, and Israel.

Posted by: dangreen3 | January 29, 2011 4:18 PM | Report abuse

As long as we are selling arms to repressive regimes to use against innocent people (think Israel as well as Egypt and many others in the world) our opinions and presidential statements don't mean jack.

Stop providing weapons! Just stop it!

Posted by: Casey1 | January 29, 2011 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Egypt is what happens when a leader of a country ignores the people and drives into the past with his own agenda. America, this is your future until Obama is kicked the hell out of office!

Posted by: Templeton62 | January 29, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

So who will succeed Mubarak? The Egyptian Army's pick or the Muslim Brotherhood's pick?

As for either the US or the West being irrelevant...perhaps...don't you think MB decided to pick Egypt because 1. they could and 2. Obama spoke there? (and remember MB is just Iran in a different cloak so what Obama has done, speaking versus acting, does in fact directly effect Egypt). Message to other middle Eastern powers--put the US at arms length. Yup good going there on our part, NOT.

Posted by: mil1 | January 29, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

All China's fault, if they had let yuan rise against dollars, moron$ won't be riot in the street

All China fault, they put lead toothpaste to make people riot in te street

All China fault, stupid people unemployed and riot in teh street

Posted by: dodobird1 | January 29, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Obama and Hillary look especially antiquated and foolish. Obama simply is not an avant garde kind of guy. He is more like a 60's moderate Republican, galling since he really dislikes the boomers. Maybe he should study up on them. I mean, after all, how hard is it to say that the US will support any freedom movement no matter if they like the US or not, as long as it truly represents the will of the people. I believe JFK said something to that effect, support any friend of liberty, oppose any foe of same, no matter the cost, etc. The root cause of the mid-east problem insofar as it concerns the US which it mostly doesn't is stupid US policy, supporting the potentates and the despots who could care less about the common guy all in the name of what? The war on terror? It aint a war O first off. It is a law enforcement issue. And secondly, just cause they give a war doesn't mean you have to go. He really is not much punkin, and Hill, well, just another Goldwater girl.

Posted by: aguasticas | January 29, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Fact check should be used on this article, since it omits the reason for the soft shoe approach, the State Dept. got valuable intelligence from Mubarak's intelligence apparatus, far more valuable to Obama's team than a tin eyed backing of the people. With the revolution ousting Mubarak, the change in the executive position has been noted by this writer.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 29, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

What a shame of our government's forigen policy towards africa and the midlle east , I'm witnessing especially in Ethiopia. Billion's of Tax payers money spent to make reach blood sucker dictators, selling arms to repressive regimes to use against innocent people. whole world knows it. Rhetoric about Democracy is totally sucks.

Posted by: Jerrypits | January 29, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Who are we trying to kid?? This is already out of the U.S.'s ability to control or really even influence.
Democracy by thugs looting in the streets? An under-age marginally literatet bama can make statements and pontificate all he wants about "human rights" and "democracy" but when the dust settles and the fires burn themselves out it will be those with sufficent FORCE who will make the decisions. In 1917 the Bolshevicks stepped into a power-vaccum in Russia and the French Revolution turned inward upon itself (Robbespierre went to the gulliotine)0. Who succeded? Lenin+Stalin and Napoleon.

Posted by: Arkygirl666 | January 29, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I love that Obama just lectured China on human rights and yet promotes a corrupt and repressive Egypt.

Posted by: Doctor_Evil | January 29, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

A big part of the problem is that the Washington Post insists on using the words "president" and "democracy" in the same sentence with Mubarak, a totally corrupt dictator and tool of Israel and the U.S. who has never done anything for Egypt.

Posted by: jjedif | January 29, 2011 6:37 PM | Report abuse

The U.S. -- and the Washington Post -- are completely morally bankrupt and apparently don't think the rest of us out here in the real world know it.

Posted by: DJ_Spanky | January 29, 2011 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Egypt has been playing a double game re Israel and the Jews.

On December 2,an official government weekly carried this opinion piece -- common for government publications, but virtually never reported in the west:

Memri Special Dispatch No.3539

Article in Egyptian Government Weekly: Israel's End and the Annihilation of the Jews by the Muslims – All Prophesied in the Koran, Bible

In an article in the Egyptian government weekly Al-Liwaa Al-Islami, Hassan Al-Hafanawi wrote that Israel's destruction was inevitable because it was prophesied in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran. Following are excerpts:

Israel's End – An Irrefutable Koranic Prophecy

"The Al-Isra [Night Journey] surah [Koran chapter] discusses the Sons of Israel, their dangerous role in this world, and their inevitable end.

"Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, revealed the Torah, which contains instruction and light, but [the Sons of Israel] did not follow the path [of the Torah], distorting everything it said for materialistic ends, and taking the law into their own hands, as Allah, may He be glorified, said: 'And We had made known to the Children of Israel in the Book: Most certainly you will make mischief in the land twice, and most certainly you will behave with great insolence [Koran 17:4].' That is to say, He decreed in the Torah that [the Sons of Israel] would make mischief in the land, tyrannize the servants of Allah, and be too arrogant to obey their Lord, such that their end would be ruin and annihilation. Allah proclaimed that [this would happen twice], and both times would present a grave danger, [threatening] to extinguish Allah's light and destroy mankind...

The Jews Falsified the Torah and Published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

"[The Jews] falsified the Torah and published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Talmud in order to spread corruption, atheism, and abominable practices, [and they will continue to do] until the promised end, when Allah will send his servants to restore the honor to the holy [Al-Aqsa] mosque. This is the end that The [Sahih] Muslim relates... that 'the Messenger of Allah... said: Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them, and the Jews will hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees will say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' This means that [the Jews] will [sink] to such a a degree of corruption and tyranny that even the rocks of the land will despise them, fight them, and help the Muslims against them."

Note that the excerpt,"Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' appears in the Hamas charter as well.

Long ignored by our press,the virulent anti-Semitism has long been a staple of official government news organs, diverting Egyptians from their hardships. they endure. As events unfold, we may see the harvest of these seeds of official hatred.

Posted by: thom714 | January 29, 2011 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Of course, it's decades of US decadent foreign policies that put us in this kind of no-win predicaments. While we keep incessantly criticizing countries like China and Russia on their human rights records, we encourage worst atrocities committed under our nose all over the Middle East, for supposedly STRATEGIC reasons! We should actually be surprised that these kinds of street rebellions haven't happened earlier. These repressive states own half of the world's oil riches and yet they could only offer token objections on the sidelines as Palestinians were treated like cooped-up chickens. Other stooges like Jordan and Saudi Arabia must be feeling the heat now.

Maybe the WikiLeaks tactics of pitching the Arab royal families against the Iranian government backfired on some people's master plan?

Posted by: KT11 | January 29, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

During the past year, the Obama administration failed to sufficiently pressure Israel to give up land for peace with the Palestinians. It now has very little credibility in the region with Arab peoples as a result, and this will affect how the role of the US in working with any newly-installed Egyptian government. With the US government, it seems like every single event is always first scrutinized in terms of how it affects Israel. When the US starts to have a genuine foreign policy in the region which takes into account the interests and needs of Arab peoples, instead of just how it affects Israel or the price of oil, then perhaps the US government can regain some measure of goodwill among Arab peoples.

So far, Obama had initially followed the paths of Jimmy Carter and the first president Bush in dealing with Israel, but has caved-in to pressure from the Israeli lobby and their purchased supporters in the US Congress. His policies are becoming indistinguishable from Bill Clinton and the second Bush, and this is very disappointing to many people like me who believe he is capable of doing much, much better.

Posted by: armyofone | January 30, 2011 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Well now, do we FINALLY have just a wee bit of positive historical narrative on the long history of friendship and cooperation between Hosni Mubarak and all of our present and past leaders? I guess I have to thank Kessler, at least, for not parroting his idiotic Post editors who continuously want to play God by telling various countries here, Egypt- how they must conduct their internal political and domestic affairs-really, it's bloody shocking how the Post with all their smug, Amero-centric arrogance, continue to do this, recasting Mubarak, one of the greatest, most influential leaders in the Middle East peace process, who was waaay ahead of the rest of the world in sounding the clarion call about al-Qaeda and the terrorists hiding out in the West, and who has successfully muzzled the Islamists who were literally tearing Egypt apart in the 90's-not to mention stopping the horrible massacres of tourists that occurred then-MUBARAK CRACKED DOWN AND PUT THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD OUT OF EXISTENCE-AND FOR HIS CONTINUANCE OF THESE "REPRESSIVE" POLICES AGAINST THOSE WHO WOULD TEAR EGYPT APART, WHO WOULD AND HAVE KILLED WESTERNERS INDISCRIMINATELY, HE IS CONDEMNED AS A DESPOT-OH THAT IS SOOOO RICH!


Posted by: Spring_Rain | January 30, 2011 1:47 AM | Report abuse

When supermarket tabloids like National Enquirer, Washington Post or Star Magazine come up with their own "Fact Checker" column, does it make their lies any more believable?

Posted by: fury60 | January 30, 2011 3:26 AM | Report abuse

Wonder what the author said about human rights when W was appointed President. And people were spied on and renditioned. The post is more disapointing each time I read it. And what would the author have said if Obama did regime change in Egypt and ended up with fundemetalist gov. there like Iran? How many articles did this author do on the Egypt problems in the last 30 years before now?

Posted by: jimbobkalina1 | January 30, 2011 4:08 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Mr. Kessler for your outstanding article. This is a historic opportunity for president Obama to really break the public silence from the White House. Support the middle class youth in Egypt before it is too late and radicals step in. They ask for exactly the same freedoms we all have in the west. We made a big mistake in Iran not to support and facilitate the middle class when they revolted. So no 'old politics', the 'first globals' (Zogby in Business Week) will twitter on their ideas to many others in the region. This is our chance to uplift the prestige of the United States and the rest of the West. Dictatorships vanish, in the end democracy can not be stopped. The world needs a self-confident U.S. president who at exactly the right moment must rise above daily pragmatism in a rapidly changing world.
Willem Post (commentator on U.S.-politics) at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, The Netherlands

Posted by: willempost | January 30, 2011 4:30 AM | Report abuse

Wikileak cables show Obama providing financial support to opposition groups now protesting.

Thank you Pres. Obama!

Posted by: angie12106 | January 30, 2011 8:44 AM | Report abuse

As CG puts it: ...”….It is the “Arab Street’s” overwhelming animosity towards Israel that causes the pragmatists to argue that Israel’s best play is to cut deals with Arab dictators who rule with an iron fist. Since Israel and the Arab despots share a fear of the Arab masses, the pragmatists claim that Israel should give up all the land it took control over as a payoff to the regimes, who in exchange will sign peace treaties with it.

This was the logic that brought Israel to surrender the strategically priceless Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for the Camp David accord that will not survive Mubarak.

And of course, giving up Sinai wasn’t the only sacrifice Israel made for that nearly defunct document. Israel also gave up its regional monopoly on US military platforms. Israel agreed that in exchange for signing the deal, the US would begin providing massive military aid to Egypt. Indeed, it agreed to link US aid to Israel with US aid to Egypt.

Owing to that US aid, the Egyptian military today makes the military Israel barely defeated in 1973 look like a gang of cavemen. Egypt has nearly 300 F-16s. Its main battle tank is the M1A1 which it produces in Egypt. Its navy is the largest in the region. Its army is twice the size of the IDF. Its air defense force constitutes a massive threat to the IAF. And of course, the ballistic missiles and chemical weapons it has purchased from the likes of North Korea and China give it a significant stand-off massdestruction capability…”..

Posted by: truth34 | January 30, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

there is ZERO Israel component to this: ZERO, NADA, BUBKEZ. As for the USA, they have been helping out a society that's is great at breeding, lousy on feeding(itself).

Posted by: craigslsst | January 30, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Jeez! Sometimes I think I'd like an "angry black man" to the "fawning black puss" we have as President now!

Posted by: Roofelstoon | January 30, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Read it again, lirlir

"No matter what was said in private, or how forcefully, the public message sent by the Obama administration over the past two years was that democracy and human rights in Egypt was not a top priority. When given the opportunity to use the biggest megaphone in the world--the voice of the president of the United States--the words were whispered, if said at all."

Another failure for Obama's foreign policy. Joe Biden: "Mubarak is not a dictator."

Say, how's that meeting thingy with Ahmadi-nutbjob coming along. Oh, Obama flubbed that uprising too.

Posted by: mrfr1 | January 31, 2011 3:04 AM | Report abuse

"And the media sits and smiles like idiots."
The media are Democratic idiots what do you expect? What is important is that we trust Obama completely no many how many times he lies to us! We are only sheep when compared to All Mighty Obama.....only a fool questions God/Obama
Some wondered with all the current trouble in Egypt that may raise our gas prices why Dems were out parting. Hello the trouble in Egypt works great with their political agenda. Democrats want gas to cost at least 5 dollars a gallon. That will make it much easier for them to continue their "green" scam on the stupid in America and the world. The Democrats the party of evil were not partying and ignoring the problems in Egypt. It was just the opposite the were celebrating the trouble in Egypt!As always you can contact me at work and yes keep those jokes coming! Obama/Cheney in 2012 warmongers you can believe in! As James Carville observed not so long ago, “If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he’d have two.”

Posted by: Loxinabox | January 31, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

"And the media sits and smiles like idiots."
The media are Democratic idiots what do you expect? What is important is that we trust Obama completely no many how many times he lies to us! We are only sheep when compared to All Mighty Obama.....only a fool questions God/Obama
Some wondered with all the current trouble in Egypt that may raise our gas prices why Dems were out parting. Hello the trouble in Egypt works great with their political agenda. Democrats want gas to cost at least 5 dollars a gallon. That will make it much easier for them to continue their "green" scam on the stupid in America and the world. The Democrats the party of evil were not partying and ignoring the problems in Egypt. It was just the opposite the were celebrating the trouble in Egypt!As always you can contact me at work and yes keep those jokes coming! Obama/Cheney in 2012 warmongers you can believe in! As James Carville observed not so long ago, “If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he’d have two.”

Posted by: Loxinabox | January 31, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

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