QUESTION: We’re just off the line with Liz Palmer, our person in Cairo, and during her report, F-16s, Egyptian air force warplanes, apparently were flying low over the demonstrators in the main part of Cairo. Do you know what this is about?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Bob, I don’t, and let me repeat again what President Obama and I have been saying, and that is to urge the Egyptian security forces to show restraint, to not respond in any way through violence or intimidation. That falls upon the peaceful protestors who are demanding that their grievances be heard. And obviously, our reports up until now have been that the Egyptian army had taken up positions, that they were showing such restraint. And we strongly urge that that continue.
What the people who are in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt are protesting for is the right to participate in their government, to have economic opportunity, for their human rights to be respected. We are very clearly asking both in public and private that the Egyptian authorities respond to that, that they start a process of national dialogue that will lead to a transition to such democracy, and what President Mubarak himself said the other day – that they would begin to take concrete steps for democratic and economic reform – we expect to see happen.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, do you think those things are possible if President Mubarak stays in office, or is he eventually going to have to leave?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to speculate, Bob. What we are focused on now is a transition that will meet the needs of the Egyptian people and that will truly establish democracy, not just for one election and then no more elections after that, or not for radicals, extremists, violent elements to take over. We want to see the – what really was at the core of the protests, which were people saying, “Hey, we deserve a better life. We deserve more opportunity to be respected and responded to.” And that is what we’ve been conveying and that’s what we will continue to make very clear, and we stand ready to assist.
QUESTION: Do you – are you concerned that if President Mubarak does go, it may give an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been the opposition to his government for so many years, could somehow come to power? I think most people agree they were not the start of this or the cause of these demonstrations. But where do you see – what role do you see them playing if Mr. – President Mubarak should go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I’m not speculating about who goes or who stays. And I’m not prepared to comment on what kind of democratic process the Egyptian people can construct for themselves. But we obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not to imposing any ideology on Egyptians. And therefore, we would like to encourage that people who have been the voice of protest and been the voice of civil society be the ones at the table trying to design what would be an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people.
Bob, we’re all very conscious of the fact that Egypt is an incredibly important country, a large country with great influence in the region and meaning for the Arab world. And we want to see the outcome of what started as peaceful protests legitimately demanding redress for grievances to result in a true democracy. Not a phony one like we saw with Iranian elections, not to see a small group that doesn’t represent the full diversity of Egyptian society take over and try to impose their own religious or ideological beliefs. We want to see the full diversity and dynamism of Egyptian society represented.
QUESTION: Do you believe that his appointment of a new vice president – is that helpful?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s something that American Government representatives have been urging and requesting for 30 years. I talked – I’ve talked with former ambassadors over the last weeks who have said, “Boy, I remember when I went in in 1980-this or 1990-that.” So yes, it’s something we have said is absolutely imperative. It finally has happened. There are some new people taking responsibility in government. We hope that they can contribute to the kind of democratic and economic reforms that the people of Egypt deserve.
QUESTION: So far, though, it does not seem that anything that Mr. Mubarak has said or done up until this point has, in any way, tempered these demonstrations. I mean, things seem to be getting worse rather than better.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think there are several things going on. But first and foremost, words alone are not enough. There have to be actions. There has to be a demonstrable commitment to the kind of reforms that we all know are needed and desired, but also too, there is now, unfortunately, in addition to the legitimate, peaceful protests that are going on, lots of reports of looting, prison breaks, and the like. So it makes the situation much more complicated than it even was before, because everyone wants to ensure that the right of assembly, the right of association, the right of free expression be protected, that there be no violence against the protests.
At the same time, people in the streets have to refrain from violence themselves. And I’ve heard many stories of Egyptians protecting their national museum, protecting their homes. And they’re protecting them from looters and from criminals. So this is an incredibly complex set of circumstances, and we are hoping and praying that the authorities will be able to respond to the legitimate requests for participation by the peaceful protestors. Let’s begin to see some meetings with representatives of the government and representatives of civil society. Let’s begin to see some steps taken that will lead toward free, fair, and credible elections in the future.
Those will begin to put some substance behind the words and give the protestors who are trying to see a future for Egypt that is responsive to their needs a reality that they can hang onto.
QUESTION: All right. Madam Secretary, thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.