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Military vital to US keeping influence

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday February 12, 2011

SIMON MANN HERALD CORRESPONDENT

WASHINGTON: America's long-established close ties with the Egyptian military appear critical to its chances of retaining some influence in the Arab nation's transition to democracy.After Thursday night's speech to the nation by the President, Hosni Mubarak, the army looked increasingly to be the linchpin in efforts to satisfy the demands of pro-democracy demonstrators who have railed against his government for three weeks.The Obama administration stiffened its rhetoric, after it seemed wrong-footed by expectations that Mubarak was poised to relinquish power. In a brief White House statement Barack Obama called for greater clarity from Mubarak and his Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, on the mechanics of change."The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," the statement read.The US has walked a fine line throughout the crisis, balancing its security interests and desire for stability in the Middle East with its support for the nascent democratic movement.It has also tempered its criticism of the regime with public encouragement for an orderly transition, adding a sense of urgency to its voice as frustrations have built over the regime's apparent reluctance to change.Initially thrown by the speed at which the political ground was shifting, the administration has drawn broad bipartisan support in the US for its handling of the crisis, throughout which officials have kept in constant contact with Egypt's military leaders.Washington, which underwrites Egypt's military with $US1.5 billion in aid a year, has praised its generals' discipline and restraint.The former US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz said America needed to continue to show that it celebrated what the protesters had achieved, while promising continued support. But he also praised the intermediary role of the Egyptian military."The transitions that have been successful are the ones where the military have kept their hands clean and didn't start killing its own citizens," he told CNN.Washington was still trying to come to grips with the latest pronouncements from Cairo as Egypt's ambassador insisted that Mubarak's second address confirmed that Suleiman was the nation's de facto president, paving the way for tangible change.Obama appeared far from satisfied by Egyptian reassurances, calling on the regime to "move swiftly ... to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step-by-step process that will lead to democracy".

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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