26
Sep

By Helene Cooper and Robert F. Worth

STERN WORDS FOR MUBARAK – President Obama phoned President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on Feb. 1, 2011, as some of his senior staff members worked in the Oval Office.

President Hosni Mubarak did not even wait for President Obama’s words to be translated before he shot back. “You don’t understand this part of the world,” the Egyptian leader broke in. “You’re young.”

Mr. Obama, during a tense telephone call the evening of Feb. 1, 2011, had just told Mr. Mubarak that his speech, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, had not gone far enough. Mr. Mubarak had to step down, the president said.

Minutes later, a grim Mr. Obama appeared before hastily summoned cameras in the Grand Foyer of the White House. The end of Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Mr. Obama said, “must begin now.” With those words, Mr. Obama upended three decades of American relations with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, putting the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Arab street.

It was a risky move by the American president, flying in the face of advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon, who had spent decades nursing the autocratic — but staunchly pro-American — Egyptian government.

Nineteen months later, Mr. Obama was at the State Department consoling some of the very officials he had overruled. Anti-American protests broke out in Egypt and Libya. In Libya, they led to the deaths of four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. A new Egyptian government run by the Muslim Brotherhood was dragging its feet about condemning attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo.

Television sets in the United States were filled with images of Arabs, angry over an American-made video that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad, burning American flags and even effigies of Mr. Obama. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 24, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on September 25, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Arab Spring, Obama Finds A Sharp Test).

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