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Obama Administration Criticizes Mubarak, Downplays Role of Muslim Brotherhood

January 31, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP/The Blaze) — The Obama White House is calling for free and fair elections in Egypt, but refusing to say whether the U.S. believes President Hosni Mubarak should run in those contests.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed Mubarak’s move on Monday to appoint a new government, saying the situation in Egypt calls for action, not appointments.  Mubarak named a new government in an apparent attempt to defuse the weeklong political upheaval in his country. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have flooded the streets, calling for his ouster.

Gibbs also says the U.S. embassy in Cairo has not been in contact with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei this week. Egypt’s government put ElBaradei on house arrest after he returned to the country amid the protests.

Additionally, Gibbs said the White House has had no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, the deeply conservative Islamic organization that constitutes the biggest organized opposition group in Egypt.

In response to questions from ABC News’ Jake Tapper, Gibbs told reporters that before dealing with opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the administration would want assurances that they adhere to the law, that they are non-violent and that they are willing to be part of a democratic process.

Gibbs said there would be no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt unless those assurances were offered:

TAPPER: Has anybody in the administration been in contact with Mohammed ElBaradei?

GIBBS:  Obviously the embassy is — has been in touch with him in the past.  I think he is somebody, along with a whole host of people in — nongovernmental voices in — whether they’re opposition political parties or whether they’re heads of business or banks — that we are regularly in touch with. I believe that they will continue to reach out to people like him and to a whole host of figures, again, nongovernmental and civil society figures, to have a discussion with them about what Egypt must do and what Egypt must look like.

TAPPER: Has the embassy been in touch with him in the last week?

GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of, at least when I came in here.

TAPPER: Wouldn’t it make sense for somebody to be in touch with him?

GIBBS:  Again, I think that outreach is ongoing.

TAPPER: The Egyptian government in the past has conveyed to the Obama administration and to the previous administration that it suspects that democracy pushed from the U.S. might result in a — in something along the lines of what we’ve seen in Gaza, and that is an Islamist group being elected and gaining power, in this case the Muslim Brotherhood.  How much does the Obama administration agree with that assessment?

GIBBS:  Well, look, Jake, I think that — as I said here last  week, I think that it is — from what we can see, it’s not accurate to  say that those protesting are made up of one particular group or one ideology.  And I think it is clear that that increase in democratic representation has to include a whole host of important nonsecular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be the stable and reliable partner that the world sees in the Middle East.

TAPPER: ElBaradei told ABC News this weekend that the Muslim Brotherhood is no more extremist — is not an extremist organization and is no different from Orthodox Jews in Israel or evangelical
Christians in the United States. Does the Obama administration agree with that?

GIBBS:  Well, let me — without getting into a discussion about them, I think there are certain standards that we believe everybody should adhere to as being part of this process; one that is, to participate in this ongoing democratic process, one has to take part in it but not use it as a way of simply becoming — simply becoming or taking over that process simply to put themselves in power.  We believe that any group should strongly weigh in on the side of nonviolence and adherence to the law.

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