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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Day of Rage in Egypt; White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Addresses Protests in Egypt
Aired January 28, 2011 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: What a day, what a day.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes.
CLANCY: We've been standing by.
White House briefing, we're going to hear from them. We had been standing by earlier, there was some expectations President Mubarak might speak. We understand that that may have just been a rumor, may not have been true ever.
But it would seem as Ben Wedeman just told us somebody in the government has to show up to answer what has been a day of rage, if you will, by people upset with the regime, people looking for change in one of the most important Arab countries, if not the most Arab country, in the world, Hala.
GORANI: At 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. GMT if you're following us internationally, it is 10:00 p.m. on the streets of Cairo. It was billed as a day of wrath, anger directed at the government, directed at the autocratic leader of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators saying he and his entire regime need to go.
We had police with demonstrators there in the streets earlier today, some instances of violence, of tear gas. But then the military came out on to the streets of Cairo, and, there, we had a very different scene, Jim, with demonstrators greeting members of the military with open arms in the Egyptian capital today.
And we are waiting on the American reaction to all of this.
CLANCY: As we have said time and again, important country in the Arab world. Eighty million people makes it the largest, but it -- the saying is that, as -- as Egypt goes, so goes -- so goes the Arab world. It is the -- the beating heart of the Arab street.
It is the heart of the film industry in the Arab world in so many ways, and culturally, the language.
GORANI: It's a -- it's a --
CLANCY: Against Egypt, there are so many other states measured.
GORANI: And here's why Egypt is important as well. It is the most populous Arab nation. It is also the center of Sunni Islam. I mean, this is where Al-Azhar Mosque is based. This is Sunni Islam in the same way the Vatican is for Catholics, for instance. This is as -- this is how important this country is religiously and culturally to the rest of the Arab world.
And we are awaiting that White House briefing, because the world is also waiting to see how the United States is going to react, how the Obama administration is going to react, even though we have not heard from Hosni Mubarak himself.
CLANCY: All right, maybe we will hear from the White House.
First, Dan Lothian is there to give us a feel on what is happening.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that briefing, which was originally supposed to start at 1:00, pushed back to 2:00, now 3:00, so we're running at least a minute or so past that, Robert Gibbs expected to come out and brief us.
Initially, we were told that he might be bringing someone else along to that briefing, so we will be watching to see if that in turn -- does indeed materialize.
But, you know, for this White House, they have been trying to walk a very careful balance, as you have been talking about now all day, between showing support for the protesters, and also not really giving any indication that they're backing any regime change in Egypt, talking in broad terms about how Egypt has been a key partner for the United States.
So, that's something that no doubt we will hear at the briefing here today. But the U.S., this administration continuing to express concerns about the violence by the security forces and the police there in Egypt -- Jim.
CLANCY: You know, Dan, as we look at all of this, it's obvious to any observer here that the U.S. is concerned that -- you know, how it backs up Hosni Mubarak. He has been their friend. They have a lot of other friends in the Middle East, friends --
CLANCY: -- friends who may face opposition in the days ahead. How they handle this one could mean a lot for just what is the value of friendship with Washington.
LOTHIAN: That is so true, as you point out, a key friend in the region because Egypt has been a stable government there in that region, also been involved in not only the international efforts to put pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but also push the Palestinians and Israelis together towards Mideast peace.
So, this is a key partner that certainly this administration values. And there has been pressure on the Mubarak administration to push for reforms, but something that really has taken place in private. The question that a lot of people have been asking is, does the Obama administration need to do more publicly to push that administration in Egypt to move those reforms forward much quicker than they have been doing?
GORANI: And, Dan, we asked Ed Henry earlier. Are there any indications right now that President Obama is going to communicate with President Mubarak of Egypt? It would be a very important phone call to make, and it's going to have to happen at some point.
LOTHIAN: That's right.
And we have been since yesterday asking if President Obama had reached out to him by phone. We had been told no. That is the same thing they have been saying here today. And it's a question that we will continue to ask, because, yes, clearly, I mean, with the situation has escalated to this level, with so much at stake, with the balancing act that this administration is trying to move forward with at this point, you would think that the Obama administration would be reaching out to Mubarak at some point by phone.
So, we will be asking Robert Gibbs to see if, in fact, a call like that has taken place, or if something like that is planned in the very near future.
GORANI: And this delay, this two-hour, now two-hour-plus, delay, is it due to -- to what, to phone calls being made now between high- level White House officials and officials in -- in Egypt?
GORANI: Or are you being told why this delay has occurred?
LOTHIAN: Well, again, there was the first delay. We were told that the reason for that was because the administration or the -- the staff here was trying to find someone else to bring out to brief, along with Robert Gibbs. That was the first delay.
Then there was a second delay. We were told the reason for that was that Robert Gibbs was waiting for the remarks that Hosni Mubarak would be making. Why we are delayed now five minutes past the latest time we were given, 3:00, I don't know.
But that's the guidance that we have been given by -- by this White House. Clearly, this situation is very fluid. And what is said from this podium is being watched by a lot of people. So, they want to make sure that they get their message right. And so we're waiting, because a lot of questions will be asked here.
GORANI: Dan Lothian at the White House, thanks very much.
I suspect, Jim, many regional governments are watching things unfold in Egypt, and perhaps some of the rulers in some of those countries with just a little bit of worry that what's happening in Egypt might well create instability and threaten --
GORANI: -- their regime in their own country.
CLANCY: Hala Gorani, it's been great to be with you covering all of this. I'm Jim Clancy.
We are going to leave you with some of these live pictures right now of the scene in Cairo. It would appear things have calmed down, but, as Ben Wedeman says, it's calmed down because the government has retreated from the streets.
Fires still burn.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. And welcome back to our special coverage, really rolling coverage, there in Egypt.
I'm Brooke Baldwin, joined by my two colleagues at CNN International.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, I'm Michael Holmes. Good to be with you.
And, of course, Hala sticking around as well.
GORANI: Yes, it's all hands on deck for this rolling coverage --
GORANI: -- isn't it?
BALDWIN: It's all hands on deck.
GORANI: Yes, we have been keeping an eye, Brooke, as you have seen over the last few hours with Jim Clancy, on these developments in Egypt and the White House press briefing.
BALDWIN: Yes. We're watching and waiting. We're hearing this could happen hopefully within the next minute or so. This White House briefing has been pushed back, as you all have made the point, several hours now, as the world really, the world now is watching to see how the Obama administration reacts to what has happened on the streets, not just in Cairo, but in Alexandria and Suez.
HOLMES: Yes, those are live pictures you're seeing there from our bureau position in Cairo.
Of course, the team had to go back to the bureau at one point today because they were being attacked on the street by security forces. A camera was broken, Ben Wedeman and camerawoman Mary Rogers basically assaulted by security forces.
Ben is now out on the streets with Mary, though.
GORANI: And he's able to witness the NDP, the ruling party, headquarters building --
BALDWIN: On fire.
GORANI: -- torched and ransacked.
GORANI: I don't know . You've been to Egypt several times, Michael. I have covered that country for a decade now, even longer, and I didn't think I would live to see the day the ruling party of Hosni Mubarak's headquarters building would be torched and ransacked and looted.
HOLMES: Hmm. Yes, there has always been such a firm hand wielded by this regime. And many people, I think, were surprised that the -- the -- the crowd was able to do -- the protesters were able to do what they have, in terms of basically beating back the -- the -- the police security forces, and overrunning them, and -- and then the military coming in, which -- which -- who were well -- well-received on the streets, mainly because of the distrust the -- that the people have for the -- the -- the police.
GORANI: And, Brooke, you and I have spoken over the last few days about the significance of these protests.
What makes them so significant is that they're nationwide. They're not just in the political heart of Egypt. They're --
BALDWIN: And you and I were talking --
BALDWIN: -- yesterday --
BALDWIN: It's also the fact that the military was out. And it's been decades --
BALDWIN: It's been decades since we have seen this.
GORANI: Absolutely. It's been decades.
Now, I am -- of course, we were all wondering what the impact would be once the military rolled out. And we thought -- oh.
BALDWIN: Here we go.
GORANI: And there's Robert Gibbs --
BALDWIN: Robert Gibbs.
GORANI: -- the White House press secretary.
BALDWIN: Let's listen.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously we are watching and monitoring very closely a very fluid and dynamic situation. So I will do my best to answer some of your immediate questions. We may take some of those, again, as events, as we can all see, are changing very quickly.
So with that, Mr. Feller?
QUESTION: Thanks, Robert.
Has President Obama said anything to President Mubarak about these issues?
GIBBS: Let me start by giving you a little bit of a rundown in the president's briefings thus far today.
Overnight he received a memo from the national security adviser on the latest situation. I think you all have been briefed on the -- the fact that the president's PDB was about 40 minutes in the Oval Office this morning entirely on the situation in Egypt.
We convened not too long ago, about 12: 30, a Deputies Committee meeting in the Situation Room run by Denis McDonough where we heard directly from Ambassador Margaret Scobey from -- from Egypt, and the State Department and others. Those -- that -- that briefing was relayed back to the president not too long ago in the Oval Office.
So we have throughout the process, our ambassador and others in the government have been in touch with the -- with the Egyptian government. President Obama has not spoken with President Mubarak.
QUESTION: Does he have plans to, and does he stand by him?
GIBBS: Well, we are, again, we're monitoring a very fluid situation. I would point you to what I think we've said over the course of this, and that is this is not about picking a person or picking the people of a country.
As you heard Secretary of State Clinton say today, we are deeply concerned about the images and the events that we see in Egypt today. We monitor those events closely. The security personnel in Egypt need to refrain from violence. Protesters should refrain from violence as well. We've said that throughout this. We think the government, as many of us have said throughout the day, need to turn the Internet and social networking sites back on.
The legitimate grievances that have festered for quite some time in Egypt have to be addressed by the Egyptian government immediately, and violence is not the response. A space has to be created for a meaningful dialogue that addresses, again, those very legitimate grievances.
Our right -- our belief in their right on the freedom of expression, of association and of assembly, we have -- and I outlined some yesterday -- some very specific things that the government must begin to do immediately.
QUESTION: Two other quick ones, please, here. You say these legitimate grievances have to be addressed. I'm wondering, or what? What can the president do if these matters are not attended to?
GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost, this is a -- a situation that will be solved by -- by the people in Egypt.
I will say this, that we -- we --
GIBBS: Sorry. We are monitoring closely the situation, as I have said. We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days.
So that's certainly part of it.
But this is -- this is -- this will be solved by the Egyptian people.
But it is important, and there's a very important opportunity for the Egyptian government to address, again, grievances that have -- that have been in place for a number of years.
QUESTION: And, lastly, from the White House perspective, can you put what's happening today and in the last couple days in the context -- do you see this as a crisis that is teetering on something potentially much broader? Is it spreading across the Middle East?
GIBBS: Well, obviously, we're monitoring this in a number -- in a number of places. We've seen -- we saw what happened in Tunisia.
Again, as I said yesterday, I think you have different countries in the region at different stages of -- of political development, and I don't want to generalize across a series of -- of countries.
QUESTION: What does the United States think of the Egyptian military -- military sending tanks into the streets? And what do you think the military's role should be --
GIBBS: Well, again, I think that, as we have urged repeatedly, for many days, we urge a strong restraint. This is not a situation that should be addressed with violence. Security forces and the military should be restrained in -- in anything that they do.
QUESTION: There's been reports of clashes between the Egyptian military and the Egyptian police. Have you heard anything about that?
GIBBS: I -- I -- I don't want to get into or -- or -- obviously, we're monitoring this situation, so I -- I don't have -- I don't have an account of everything that's happening on the ground. QUESTION: Is -- what's the United States doing about aid? And are (OFF-MIKE) reviewing withholding --
GIBBS: As -- as I said a minute ago, obviously we will be reviewing our assistance posture based on -- based on events now and in the coming days.
QUESTION: Yes, Robert. Has the president been having any phone conversations at all with other allies conferring about the situation in Egypt?
GIBBS: Obviously, there have been a number of meetings throughout the government. There's another high-level principals meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning, but I am unaware of any calls at this point that -- that have been made.
QUESTION: I'm wondering why this message that you are delivering from the podium, or we heard from Secretary of State Clinton earlier today, why the president isn't himself making those same comments on the phone call? I mean, it seems that it would be more powerful if the president can pick up the phone, call President Mubarak, and make the same remarks?
GIBBS: Well, again -- again, I think it's important to understand that we have -- we are in continual contact with -- throughout levels of our government, with the Egyptian government.
QUESTION: There's more weight, though, if the president were to make that call himself.
GIBBS: Well, and -- and I think you heard the president speak quite clearly yesterday on this topic. And I think what's also very important is we have not waited for the events of the past several days to bring up our concerns and the concerns of the Egyptian people about -- about what I said -- association, assembly, freedom of expression, freedom -- Internet freedoms.
Those are discussions that are had at every opportunity when anybody from our government meets with the Egyptian government. When the president last spoke with President Mubarak, he brought these concerns up. So when we spoke in Cairo, these concerns were brought up.
So I -- I would say only in terms of going forward, we continue to monitor a fast-paced situation.
QUESTION: And finally, what -- can you kind of talk to us a bit about the role that Egypt has played in that region and any concerns at all that this situation, this crisis, could hurt the relationship?
GIBBS: Well, look, again, I -- I think obvious -- you know, we have seen the role that, on issues like Middle East peace, that either in current negotiations or historically the government of Egypt has played. And that's important.
But there is a responsibility that is had by the government of Egypt, regardless of the role that they have played internationally or regionally over the course of any number of years. They also have to address the grievances that have built up for those same number of years within the country of Egypt.
This is an important opportunity to institute concrete and legitimate political reforms, to address the deep concerns of the Egyptian people, and make some substantive progress. And that's -- that's what we're looking for.
QUESTION: Robert, why does the U.S. still support countries and regimes that we know do not respect human rights, like Egypt?
GIBBS: Well, again, we have -- we have documented, again, the concerns that some have had for quite some time. As is the case with a country like China, we have a whole host of bilateral issues that we deal with countries on, as we did in the recent trip. There were economic, security, and basic human rights issues that -- that we -- we discuss when the president meets with his -- his counterparts.
Our belief is it is important to have those conversations very directly with those leaders. If you walk away from the table of engagement, you can't deliver that message in a face-to-face manner. And the president believes, obviously, that's tremendously important.
QUESTION: You have talked about urging restraint. Has that message been communicated from the United States directly to the Egyptian military, to refrain from violence, or is it just from the podium?
GIBBS: No, it has been communicated not just from this podium, not just in the remarks of the secretary of state, but at levels within the Pentagon to the Egyptian military, from the State Department, from the words in conversations that have been had by Ambassador Scobey -- all levels -- and also the words, most importantly, of the president yesterday. QUESTION: My last question. Do you believe that the time has passed now for Mubarak to make these changes, these political changes that you are calling for?
GIBBS: I -- absolutely not. I think -- I think the people of Egypt want to see, clearly and quickly, legitimate steps taken toward concrete reforms. The time for that to happen has most certainly come.
QUESTION: Robert, you said that he has not talked to President Mubarak. Has he tried to reach him?
GIBBS: Not that I'm aware.
QUESTION: Has there been discussion of trying to reach him?
GIBBS: Well, again, this is a very fluid situation, and I have no doubt that there are conversations happening, as I brief, about Egypt on a whole host of levels and issues inside the building.
QUESTION: Why is the president not standing where you're standing right now?
GIBBS: Well, again, we're monitoring a very fluid situation.
QUESTION: But he talked about it yesterday. Since he talked about it, the situation on the ground has changed pretty dramatically.
GIBBS: And I don't doubt by the time I finish here, it will have changed more, and may several times before we all go to bed tonight.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion of -- of concerns expressed by people overseas if they don't hear directly from the president talking into the camera himself?
GIBBS: Well, no, because, again, I think you have -- you have seen a very clear and consistent message across all levels of our government, in our interactions with the government in Egypt and in Cairo, the statements that I have made publicly here and the statement -- the messages that have been communicated most recently by Secretary of State Clinton just a few hours earlier.
QUESTION: Earlier you said we'll be reviewing our assistance posture depending on the events of the next several days. Could you elaborate on that?
QUESTION: Has that been discussed in the meetings with the president?
GIBBS: It has. It has.
QUESTION: And what kind of change in posture could there be. Are you talking about cutting off aid?
GIBBS: Look, I think at this point I would just leave it to the fact that they're -- we are watching very closely the images and events that you're watching and how that could very possibly impact our assistance to Egypt.
QUESTION: And is that part of a bigger -- is there planning going on now for the possibility that he would be overthrown?
GIBBS: We -- there's a robust set of meetings that are being had to discuss a whole host of issues right now in Egypt.
QUESTION: For any contingency like that?
GIBBS: A whole host of meetings that are going on.
QUESTION: Deeply concerned, urging restraint -- to this point, to my knowledge, no U.S. official has come out and condemned the violence. Is it time to condemn the violence?
GIBBS: No, no -- I -- I -- let's be clear. Urging restraint and then seeing violence is -- is obviously very counter to what we believe should be had. And we would strongly condemn the use of any violence on either side during this situation. Absolutely.
QUESTION: It seemed that you were delayed today because we were waiting to see if Mubarak would have anything to say to his people and perhaps a global audience. Is the White House troubled that he has not come out, to our knowledge, to say something?
GIBBS: Look, I -- I -- we were delayed for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which I wanted to make sure that we have the very best available information as we come out here. We are -- we're monitoring any and all actions and words that are -- that are coming out of -- coming out of the country and we'll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Isn't this kind of a classic foreign policy dilemma for the U.S. where he may not be great to his own people, but you have to be worried about who might replace him?
GIBBS: I -- I would -- I don't think it's -- I don't think it's a good idea for me to get into hypotheticals. I will say this, and it's certainly not hypothetical, and that is that the situation should be addressed through concrete reforms. That's what the people of Egypt demand. That's why they deserve. Leaders of any country in any region of the world have to be responsive and responsible to the people they govern.
That's certainly true in this instance and it's true in each and every country around the globe.
QUESTION: Robert, has the vice president or Secretary Clinton spoken to President Mubarak?
GIBBS: Again, I -- I don't have an updated list of calls. I -- the vice president has not. I would refer you to State on -- on -- if anything has happened. Again, things are moving quite quickly.
QUESTION: Can you share with us what world leaders the president has spoken with in the last 24 hours (OFF-MIKE)
GIBBS: Again, I -- I -- I do not believe that he has spoken --
QUESTION: -- from Saudi Arabia, king of Jordan --
GIBBS: Not that I -- the president has not. Again, we -- we are -- we are -- we are in touch at a whole host of levels. Again, I would refer you to State on some of this, on what contacts have been had. Obviously -- obviously, we're watching this.
QUESTION: Have he has spoken to Prime Minister Cameron, do you know?
QUESTION: Has any -- any thought been given to pulling our ambassador temporarily?
GIBBS: Not that I have heard. Obviously, we spent some time in the meeting at 12: 30 discussing the security of the embassy, the security of American citizens inside of Egypt. There are no reports at this point of Americans in distress, but obviously this is an ongoing situation that we monitor.
The State Department --
QUESTION: -- if need to evacuate our --
GIBBS: The -- the contingencies have been discussed, and obviously there are -- pre-planning for a lot of that, you know, is -- is in the pipeline for a whole host of contingencies. I will say, obviously, that the State Department has issued a travel alert to any United States citizen considering travel to Egypt and urging people not to pursue nonessential travel to the country.
QUESTION: Has the United States, through the ambassador or somebody else, officially condemned the house arrest of ElBaradei?
GIBBS: Obviously, I -- I don't -- I did not hear the ambassador discuss it directly. Obviously, again, this -- this goes into -- directly into our concern about expression, association and assembly.
QUESTION: If he is under house arrest, do you guys --
GIBBS: -- that, you know, this is an individual who is a Nobel laureate, who the president has -- knows and has worked with on a host of nuclear security issues as the former -- as the once-head of the IAEA. And these are the type of activities that -- that the government has a responsibility to change.
QUESTION: And finally, it sounds like we could still hear from the president sometime today.
GIBBS: Yes. Just -- the situation -- as the situation changes, all that will be evaluated.
QUESTION: You just said that if Mohamed ElBaradei is indeed arrested that would feed into your concerns. You've spoken of concerns a lot. Why aren't you using the term "outrage" for some of the things that we've seen? And is there a sense of -- of making an equivocal statement when you talk about violence on the one side versus violence on the other?
Is it really comparable at this stage?
GIBBS: Jonathan, this is not a solution that will be solved on either side with violence. I'll be honest with you, Jonathan. I've been out here for three days discussing this issue. I have not equivocated on the seriousness on the situation. We have not equivocated on our very public posture that, as I said a minute ago, violence is not going to solve this.
What will solve the grievances of those that are protesting in Egypt is the government addressing those concerns. Free and fair elections is something we outlined yesterday. We condemned the continuation of emergency law last year when it was extended. It's been in place for three decades. That should come to an end.
But there's no situation that -- this is not a situation that will be solved by violence. In fact, the government's response cannot be violence. The government's response has to be to hear, to understand, and to act on the concerns of its people.
QUESTION: One more. Apparently Vodafone is a British company, the company that turned of Internet access for the people of Egypt. Is there any way or any thought to pressuring Vodafone to put that back on?
GIBBS: Let me take the specific company question and make sure that I'm clear on whatever role any company's playing. Obviously without getting into the individual company, which I'll check on with NSC, it is our strong belief that inside of the framework of basic individual rights are the rights of those to have access to the Internet and to sites for open communication/social networking.
QUESTION: Robert, beyond what you've said today about aid, how has it been conveyed to the Egyptian authorities that billions of dollars in U.S. help could be in jeopardy if they don't change their ways?
GIBBS: Again, Pete, I don't know every conversation that's been had at every level in this government, but suffice to say this is something that has been discussed and we're monitoring.
QUESTION: And do you see any evidence at all that anything that you've said, the president has said, Secretary Clinton has said, has changed the equation on either side, the government or the protestors?
GIBBS: I don't -- I'd have to ask for an evaluation of some of that in terms of measuring some actions based on media. I do know that the people of the country are watching what is said here. I know that -- again, we see some limited amount of information that comes out and social networking sites before they were shut down, that they're very attuned to our words about their individual rights.
QUESTION: On the communications question, I know you were at that meeting earlier with the ambassadors, are you guys having a hard time understanding and figuring out everything that's going on on the ground in Cairo and elsewhere, or are you pretty clear on what's happening?
GIBBS: Well, we've had a very thorough rundown from the ambassador who's at the embassy right now.
QUESTION: But you're not -- none of these shutdowns in terms of the Internet is affecting your ability to gather information?
GIBBS: We have a host of ways to gather information.
QUESTION: On the subject of the aid you say you're reviewing. You're confident prior to your announcement here, the Egyptians are aware that their aid is in jeopardy.
GIBBS: I don't know every conversation that's been had, but suffice to say I think I was rather clear in what I said.
QUESTION: Suffice it to say, could we call it a warning?
GIBBS: No. It's -- again, I think we've been very clear about what needs to happen. Violence in any form should stop immediately. And grievances should be addressed. We will monitor what is and what has happened and future events as we undertake a review of our assistance posture.
QUESTION: That sounds to me like a warning. If they don't improve their behavior their assistance will be terminated.
GIBBS: I think that if - I think we are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of all the security forces, and all of those in the military. That their actions may affect our assistance would be the subject of that review.
QUESTION: I wondered if you could give us any information you have about the composition of the protestors. How much of it -- what proportion of it is Muslim Brotherhood or --
GIBBS: Let me see if I can get some guidance on that. Obviously, you know, we have -- look, I think you have seen over the past several days the manifestation of these grievances express themselves in protest by I think what you would consider to be the Egyptian middle class in the very basic concerns they have about their political reform needs.
But I don't have any update on that. I can see if there is anything.
GIBBS: My guess is it's a predominant subject. I'll come back. Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: Is there any thought that what went on in Tunisia had some impact on this in terms of timing? And do you fear any sparks from the violence in Egypt might affect any other Arab countries?
GIBBS: Well, again, as I've said the past couple of days, I don't want to generalize across the region. Countries are obviously, as I've said, at different stages in development politically. But I think it is safe to say that we're monitoring events throughout the world.
QUESTION: Robert, could you talk a bit about the involvement of the Muslim brotherhood in this? And should the Muslim Brotherhood be treated as a political party with privileges pertaining to it?
GIBBS: I do not think this is it -- I do not think that the grievances of the people of Egypt are of a monolithic political belief. I think that it is well documented, and we have documented it, the grievances of those who feel they lack the basic individual rights that we enjoy and we have enumerated over the past several days. Obviously this is -- we are not in touch with the Muslim brotherhood.
QUESTION: Are you at all concerned about the increased role of the Muslim brotherhood might play in Egypt's political situation as a result of --
GIBBS: Again, I don't think it's -- I'm not going to get into forecasting in a very fluid and dynamic situation what may happen. Again, I'd refer you to what I said to Peter in that I think it would be based on what we know a misinterpretation to believe that the events that we have seen are based on the beliefs of one -- just one set of people.
QUESTION: Thanks. To clarify on the ongoing aid question that keeps popping up, most of the aid to Egypt is military aid, right? So when we're talking about aid being reviewed, we're talking about us reviewing our military aid assistance.
GIBBS: I want to be clear. The review would be -- we'd review all of our aid to Egypt, and I think with -- I would say within that review is military.
QUESTION: And is our review currently ongoing, or are you sort of waiting until things chill a little bit to figure that out?
GIBBS: Needless to say, it's been discussed and we are monitoring events that could affect that aid.
QUESTION: One quick follow0up. Does this affect our physical military posture in the region in any way? Whatever, U.S. military positioning -- do we have concerns where we would need to become involved and reposition U.S. forces in any way?
GIBBS: Again, I -- we discussed embassy security, and we discussed -- I think it's safe to say that there have always been contingency plans for both embassy security and American citizens that are in both Egypt and in many countries throughout the world.
QUESTION: But we're confined to talking about --
GIBBS: That's all I would talk about publicly, that's for sure.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about China? When President Hu was here, there was a lot of discussion about human rights and about the need as you become more powerful to consider elements of a free society or rule of law. Does the U.S. believe or do you think that China should be concerned in any way about what's happening in Egypt? Or do you think they are such completely different societies and this is mostly an Arab/Muslim thing?
GIBBS: Let me make sure I understand. Are you talking about our posture toward China?
QUESTION: No. I'm talking about the notion of citizens around the world in societies that they don't feel are open enough deciding to take to the streets.
GIBBS: Well, I think that, again, it would be -- if I'm not going to generalize across the region, I probably shouldn't generalize across several regions.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering about one country.
GIBBS: No, I understand. But to discuss this as it relates to one other country would be to dip my toe into the pool of generalization, which I'm certainly not going to do.
I will say this -- again, I think the issues that the president talked with President Hu of China about and the issues with which President Hu told all of you that there was work to be done, that is the case regardless of what happens in any other country in the world. And the president has expressed his concerns about that, and I think you saw those concerns quite honestly expressed by President Hu.
QUESTION: Is there any concern that this situation or the free and fair elections you're calling for could produce a government that's less favorable to U.S. interests? Is there a price you're willing to pay for those universal rights to be upheld?
GIBBS: I want to reiterate, I don't want to project into the future. I don't think that would be a wise use of my time, given the fluidity of events. I think this is -- the government of Egypt is an issue for the people of Egypt. Yes, sir?
QUESTION: Looking at the seriousness of this situation, who is the person you are in touch with in Cairo? You say that the presidents have not spoken. In all the answers I couldn't find with whom are you in touch, except the ambassador in the Mubarak administration?
GIBBS: Again, I don't have a list of every conversation that's been had. We are in touch with the Egyptian government throughout entities in this building and throughout this administration. The Pentagon obviously is in touch with the military, the state department is in touch directly with the government and in touch with the foreign ministry. Again, there are conversations that are had in many different buildings and on many different levels.
QUESTION: You have repeatedly said that the U.S. is urging for reform in Egypt.
QUESTION: But concretely, what type of reforms concretely are you urging for? And is this realistic, given the same regime has been in power there for 30 years?
GIBBS: Well, I outlined a couple of things yesterday and repeated them today, the types of things that we certainly would envision. I think - and I'll repeat those. Obviously I mentioned free and fair elections. I mentioned our condemnation of the extension of emergency law, and that that should be ended.
But the grievances of the people have to be addressed directly by the government, and I think there has to be a significant and thorough dialogue to address, again, a whole host of individual rights that the people rightly believe are lacking.
So I think there has to be a concrete process that involves -- and I think it's not -- would not be something that would be only enumerated from our perspective. It has to be enumerated and addressed directly from the perspective of those in Egypt. Yes, sir?
QUESTION: At the moment this is the story the whole world is watching. A couple of years ago the whole world was watching Georgia. It's a time for national approach. This is happening one week but you can't tell us that the president or White House is in contact with the most important three or four western allies to develop strategy, a common strategy in how to react to Egypt?
GIBBS: First and foremost, obviously we're watching a series of events that are rapidly unfolding and changing. I have no doubt that things may well have changed in the time in which I've stood up here.
Again, we have a very robust -- we have very robust diplomatic efforts. And we have contacts and conversations, as I said earlier, in many buildings in this administration with entities throughout the world. The president has not made specific will calls on this at this point, but we continue to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: Do you need a common strategy of --
GIBBS: We need a strategy by the Egyptian government to address the grievances of the Egyptian people. I think the world and I think several leaders have expressed the same -- the very same concerns about violence, that the president, the secretary of state, and others have addressed, the vice president. I think there are basic and universal rights that have to be reformed. I think there's a pretty common response and reaction to the images that we're seeing now.
QUESTION: Much of the demonstration -- thank you, Robert -- in the last few days seems to focus on president Mubarak's apparent attempt to have his son Gamal Mubarak succeed him in the elections this year one way or another. You said the president has talked about basic human rights and nonviolence in past conversations with President Mubarak. Has he ever discussed what many feel is a dynastic succession to him?
GIBBS: I don't have a direct answer to that. Let me see if there's some guidance on it. QUESTION: Are you following the reports about the whereabouts of Gamal Mubarak at all?
GIBBS: We're monitoring the events of the entire situation.
QUESTION: During the meetings today, was the scenario a possibility of Mubarak being toppled ever discussed or entertained?
GIBBS: Not in meetings that I was in. Again, I think it is safe to say, without getting into a level of detail or granularity, that we are watching a situation that obviously changing day to day, and we'll continue to watch and make preparations for a whole host of scenarios.
QUESTION: Robert, for a long time Egypt has been a partner in Middle East peace efforts. I know you said the president has not spoken with other world leaders, but on what level is the administration communicating with Israel and how might all of this affect the Middle East peace talks?
GIBBS: Again, I'm not aware of every conversation that's happened, but I think it is safe to say that our -- both inside of here and at the State Department they have talked throughout the region.
QUESTION: Can I ask one on another topic?
GIBBS: Let's exhaust this before we -- yes, sir?
QUESTION: Thank you. Is Egypt in danger of losing its U.S. financial assistance? Are they in jeopardy of losing that?
I think the review is based upon their actions. The people -- let's be clear. The people of Egypt are watching the government's actions. They have for quite some time, and their grievances have reached a boiling point, and they have to be addressed.
We will watch the actions of the government. I reiterate the urging of restraint for the security forces and for the military. All of that will go into that review.
QUESTION: Is there a point where you have to make a decision about this?
GIBBS: It's an ongoing review, so I don't -- I don't have an end date.
QUESTION: I don't quite understand your answer about Vodafone.
GIBBS: My answer was I was going to take that question and see if there was any other specific information. I don't have any information on that, and I will try to gather it.
QUESTION: Because they are a company in the Ukraine.
GIBBS: That part I did know. It was -- it was --
QUESTION: -- to switch service back on.
GIBBS: I think, again, I've been very clear. We have been very clear. The president was clear on this yesterday. The secretary of state was clear on this today. P.J. and I have both spoken on this.
We believe in the basket of individual freedoms includes the freedom to access the Internet and the freedom to use social networking sites. I don't want to speak about the specific company because I need a little bit more information regardless of -- regardless of any situation. We believe that the people of Egypt have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech and that includes the use of the Internet.
QUESTION: I think -- I think what the concern is, that what's coming across is that you're tempering your concern with --
GIBBS: Can I just be clear?
GIBBS: Is there anything I can say that will be more clear that the people of Egypt should have full access to social networking sites and the Internet, that the people of Egypt should have their concerns about freedom of express assembly and association addressed directly by their government?
I'm not tempering one word or one syllable of one word in what has to be done by the people -- by the government of Egypt to address the concerns of the people of Egypt. Yes?
QUESTION: Even if that means that the government were to fall?
GIBBS: I don't think I could be clearer.
GIBBS: I don't think the people of Egypt could be clearer. We've reached a point where the grievances of those have to be addressed in concrete reforms, have to. Must. Unequivocal.
QUESTION: Robert, you said that the administration is reviewing the assistance posture. On what criteria is that review being hinged? What are the criteria?
GIBBS: The events that we're watching.
QUESTION: You spoke in several --
GIBBS: Go ahead. I'm sorry. You had one.
QUESTION: Yes. There's not been direct contact between the two heads of state. Is that because Mubarak is unavailable or unwilling for that contact?
GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: You've spoken several times about how you're watching the events that are fluid. Is there any way for the president to use his influence to change the course of those events, to quell the violence?
GIBBS: I think -- I think that was -- I think that was apparent in what he said yesterday. I mean, he was clear on what the government shouldn't do and what he was -- he was clear on what the government needed to do.
So I think the secretary of state has been clear on that. I think the vice president has been clear on that. Did you have a follow-up? Let's do a couple of more, and then I'll -- yes.
QUESTION: Ever since president of Egypt went to Indian, the president has spoken with the president of India, Indian prime minister is also worried about the events in Egypt because of the good relations with India and also --
GIBBS: The president to my knowledge has not spoken with Prime Minister Singh.
QUESTION: Second, presidential address to the union the other day, it came to a surprise that all the global, people were surprised when the president said China is now head of supercomputer, once the U.S. was a leader and also the solar power. What people are asking now is, China has compromised the U.S. security as far as your leading in supercomputers and all that?
GIBBS: Let's be clear. I think let's be clear. We as the president said in his speech, need to take -- we need to take important steps to win the future. We need to out-innovate and out- build and out-educate any of our competitors.
I don't think people should be confused about the size of our economy and the size of their economy. Our economy is three times the size of the Chinese economy with a quarter of its people. We -- again, we need to -- we need to take steps because, as you've heard the president say a number of times, people in one state in this country aren't compete in competing against people in the next town over or two states away. It's a global economy, and we have global challenges. And I think the president addresses and outlined many of them and over the course of the next coming weeks and months will outline specific plans to address them.
QUESTION: I just want to -- can you just talk real quick about Jay, what he brings to the position and what differences we'll see and sort of I guess if there's a message that comes with that?
GIBBS: Let me just -- I'll do this quickly because I -- I'll get back to the situation in Egypt. Look, I think, as I've said, I think Jay is tremendously smart. I think Jay is extraordinarily hard working. He's done a terrific job for the vice president. I think you need two things to do this job well. I think you need to have the confidence of the president and the team and the White House, and you need to have the access which gives you the ability to do the job and answer questions. I don't think there's any doubt that Jay has each of those abilities, and I think will be terrific at what he does.
QUESTION: Actually, two follow-ups on that. Are you any closer to -- now that the announcement has been made on saying when you'll hand over the duties to him?
GIBBS: Again, I anticipate transitioning out of here sometime mid-February.
QUESTION: Secondly, can you explain the president's thinking beyond the two things you just named in being the first president to name, since Gerald Ford, to name a reporter to the job. Does he have some skill that's transferrable?
GIBBS: A thousand jokes just flashed in my head, George.
I think the -- I think the -- I've think given the nature of this briefing I'll holster the nature of the thousand jokes.
QUESTION: There are a lot of questions.
GIBBS: Let me do this. I think that's a very important point. Let us go back now and see sort of where we are, and we will keep in touch with you. If you have questions, send them our way.
Obviously this is Ben's last day and we've made it a particularly busy one. He'll go back over to the State Department, don't worry. So obviously Ben, Dennis, Tom, Ben Chang, Tommy Vitor, myself, we will endeavor to let you know as much as we know throughout this process. Let me go back and look at our scheduling as to when we might want to try to do this a little bit later.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. know for sure where President Mubarak is?
GIBBS: I'm not going --
QUESTION: Is he in Cairo?
GIBBS: I have no information that he's not. Thanks.
BALDWIN: There he went, Robert Gibbs, closing in on an hour there. Look at that packed house inside that White House briefing room, and he was very, very careful, choosing his words carefully and also not really picking a side.
He was asked, of course, how does the administration, you know, would they side with Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, and he was very close to saying, very careful to say it's not about picking a person or a people.
And I think what really jumped out with me is simply the fact that President Obama has not picked up the phone and called Mubarak.
HOLMES: Yes. We -- we're starting to count the number of times the terms "fluid situation," "grievances," "we're monitoring."
GORANI: He was tap dancing in a minefield and trying to navigate as much as he could, and many of those questions, quite frankly, remained without a very clear answer.
BALDWIN: What jumped out at you? We were talking -- some of the questions were because they received so much aid to the United States and several people were asking the same question, it got repetitive to the point, you know, would the U.S. continue to give financially to Egypt?
HOLMES: And it was interesting that he said developments in Egypt could impact our assistance to that country.
GORANI: And I think, probably, if there's a headline there, it is that the United States is considering its options and also saying, as you -- you picked up as well, that they are preparing for a whole host of --
HOLMES: One other thing that I think is worth pointing out, a question he did not answer, was, do you -- does the president stand by Hosni Mubarak? And that's when we got one of those we're monitoring a very fluid situation. He did not say we're standing by Hosni Mubarak when he had the opportunity.
You know, Ben Wedeman has been out on the streets, our longtime correspondent, in Egypt, and he's been out and about all day, managed to get beaten up a little, too, had the camera taken off photographer Mary Rogers.
We had him on in the last hour, and we're getting an update on what the current situation is.
I want you to listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have calmed down because there is no government. There is no authority. There are no policemen. The soldiers, the army soldiers and the Republican Guard have taken positions outside the Foreign Ministry, outside state television, but there's no -- there's no protests because there's nobody to protest against.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ben Wedeman there in Cairo.
And just want to take thank you, immensely, Hala Gorani, with CNN International. We're simulcasting here globally. And thank you so much for lending your brilliance and your expertise. We're going to let you go.
GORANI: Thank you.