The Fact Checker

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - GLENN KESSLER Ex­cerpts from wash­ing­ton­post.com/factchecker kess­lerg@wash­post.com

The White House says Obama has been tough on Mubarak. See for your­self.

“He’s on sev­eral oc­ca­sions di­rectly con­fronted Pres­i­dent Mubarak on it. And pushed him on the need for po­lit­i­cal re­form.”

— David Ax­el­rod, White House se­nior ad­viser, Jan. 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 in­ter­nal tran­scripts of con­ver­sa­tions, it is im­pos­si­ble to know ex­actly what was said 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 the con­ver­sa­tions, ei­ther in press state­ments or by the pres­i­dent him­self. A re­view of of­fi­cial White House state­ments on meet­ings and phone calls be­tween the two pres­i­dents shows that 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.

June 4, 2009: Pres­i­dent Obama’s first meet­ing with Mubarak in Cairo. No men­tion of re­form in Egypt. Obama told re­porters: “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 that ref­er­enced “ the abil­ity to speak your mind and have a say in how you are gov­erned” but he did not specif­i­cally men­tion Egypt.]

Aug. 3, 2009: White House an­nounce­ment of up­com­ing meet­ing be­tween Obama and Mubarak. No men­tion of re­form in Egypt.

Aug. 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 list re­form or democ­racy.

Sept. 1, 2010: White House state­ment on meet­ing with Mubarak at the White House. Re­form in Egypt is men­tioned. Much of the state­ment dealt with the Mid­dle East peace process 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.”

Jan. 18, 2011: White House state­ment on a phone call be­tween Obama and Mubarak. No men­tion of need for re­forms in Egypt, al­though the state­ment says the two men dis­cussed the over­throw of the govern­ment in Tu­nisia.

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