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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Egypt Revolution: Egyptian President Resigns; President Obama Speaks Out On Egypt; Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' Last Day
Aired February 11, 2011 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon here in the United States and good evening to all of our viewers around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer joined by my colleagues Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani for this special coverage of the of revolution in Egypt.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: (AUDIO GAP) -- of a television set, a radio or the internet, let me bring you up to date on the fast-moving and historic events in Egypt.
You're seeing live pictures there of Liberation Square in the heart of Cairo. Joyful celebrations in the streets Cairo after President Hosni Mubarak quits and puts Egypt's military in charge. We're waiting reaction from President Barack Obama.
The surprise announcement coming from Egypt's vice president today. Protestors in Tahrir Square erupted into cheers and shouts of "Allahu Akbar (God is great)" and "Egypt is free."
A high ranking military official told CNN talks are already underway to dismiss parliament and plan for elections.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is about to make a statement about Mubarak's sudden resignation and the future of Egypt. He has been meeting in the White House situation room with his national security team. We are obviously will bring you the president live when he begins speaking.
Right now, let's go to Nic Robertson live in Cairo.
And, Nic, we may have to jump and go to the president any moment, but the scenes you are seeing there, you have been in Alexandria throughout much of this crisis. It's obviously -- how does it compare to Cairo?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's -- it's absolutely euphoric down here. I'm down in one of the medical centers where they have been treating -- doctors have been treating a lot of the wounded people here.
I'm joined now by young Dr. Fatama (ph).
How did you feel when you heard about --
(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Finally, all our dreams come true. (INAUDIBLE) We are going to get our country and (INAUDIBLE) for future.
WATSON: Mohammed, you have been down here too. You've been working in the clinic. How do you feel now getting this news?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. First of all, I want to send a message to all, all respectable people who supported the Egyptian revolution. Really, I would like to thank you. Thank you, all decent, respectable people.
And we couldn't -- you couldn't be happier if you are here in Tahrir Square. Never I have seen the Egyptian celebrating with the freedom. And tomorrow, you will see them here in Tahrir Square, and in the future you will see them celebrating with the progress here in Tahrir Square.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And about me (INAUDIBLE) to be (INAUDIBLE) in this protest, really, really -- not to me, not to me. I hope the scar of this one will (INAUDIBLE) --
WATSON: Mohammed, you had a lot of American friends here --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes.
WATSON: -- before this started.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WATSON: What's your message to all your friends in the United States now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, friends, I'm so, so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Shandy (ph). I'm so, so sorry, Liam (ph). I'm so sorry to all my American friends that you couldn't complete your tour here in Egypt.
And I promise you, when I become a big doctor here in Egypt, I will invite you all to visit Tahrir Square and celebrate again with freedom and the progress here in Egypt. Bye-bye.
WATSON: Fatama, I want to come back to you. What is it you want to happen now? This is a great night for you, but what next?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inshallah (INAUDIBLE) our country. Inshallah (INAUDIBLE). Inshallah, everything going to be fine. Inshallah. OK.
WATSON: Fatama, thank you very much.
I would like to bring in Ian (ph) here, if you can come in for me for a moment, Ian. Ian, you're a tour guide. Just step in here for a moment. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
WATSON: You're a tour guide in the city, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
WATSON: What does it mean to you to get this news today about President Mubarak?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We -- I'm very happy because I hear this. Now we can get the position of Egypt that we learn and we studied over all the history of Egypt from Abraham, the prophet Abraham. He married Sarah from Egypt, married Hagar from Egypt, and our prophet, our prophet Jesus Christ (INAUDIBLE) in Egypt, and he said, bless me, Egypt, Egypt, my people.
Our prophet Moses born here, Prophet Mohammed married from here also. So, this is -- was before Egypt not like this. So this is a moment that we can build -- rebuild Egypt again. We can discover Egypt again with a new age, with a new hope. This is for all Egyptian people in Tahrir Square.
WATSON: And now the army is in control. The army is running the country. What's your message to the army now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are -- we -- all Egyptian people are an army, an army in the Egyptian people.
So for all over -- all over Egyptian history, the army, the Egyptian army, the fairest defense support and fairest defense in crisis and everything. So I needed to say any message for Egyptian army, just say you're welcome. We're all in one. This is Egypt, and Egypt for Egyptian. Now we can start Egypt for Egyptian.
WATSON: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much.
WATSON: You have been waiting for me patiently here. It's a great celebration going on behind us. I'm sorry. I'm going to have to wrap for a moment.
Anderson, a lot of more people here waiting to talk to us, but clearly a huge celebration, everyone incredibly excited here -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, everybody it seems there wants to tell their story, wants to express themselves, something in many cases they haven't felt free to do on camera for a very long time.
Let's bring in Wolf in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Anderson, we're going to hear from the president in just a moment, but I want to get John King in first.
John, you have been looking at the evolution, shall we say, of the U.S. reaction.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this, Wolf, will be where the president speaks in about a minute-and-a-half.
That will be an exclamation point after an evolution. Let's go back 10 days. President Obama said he had just spoken to President Mubarak and told him it was time quickly to answer the demands of the protesters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Begin now was the president's line then. And yet, by the weekend, by the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was saying we understand President Mubarak might have to stay a while.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: With the transition to democracy, it can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability. Even worse -- and we have seen it before -- the transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And yet another shift, Secretary Clinton was on Saturday. Then on Wednesday, Robert Gibbs at the White House saying he saw evidence the Egyptians were backsliding. He tried to nudge them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: More has to be done and I think more importantly the people of Egypt think more has to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And then yesterday, of course, the president thought President Mubarak was going to step down yesterday. The White House had received that word from Egypt and the president was almost celebrating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are witnessing history unfold. It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That didn't happen yesterday, of course, Wolf. And the White House issued a tough statement last night. And in a minute, we will hear the president celebrate what did happen today.
BLITZER: And here he goes to the microphone right now, the president of the United States.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
OBAMA: There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times.
The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.
By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people's hunger for change.
But this is not the end of Egypt's transition. It's a beginning. I'm sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered.
But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks, for Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.
The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people. That means protecting the rights of Egypt's citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free.
Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt's voices to the table, for the spirit of peaceful protest and perseverance that the Egyptian people have shown can serve as a powerful wind at the back of this change.
The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.
I'm also confident that the same ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that the young people of Egypt have shown in recent days can be harnessed to create new opportunity, jobs and businesses that allow the extraordinary potential of this generation to take flight.
And I know that a democratic Egypt can advance its role of responsible leadership not only in the region, but around the world.
Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years. But over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights. We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like. We saw young Egyptians say, "For the first time in my life, I really count. My voice is heard. Even though I'm only one person, this is the way real democracy works."
We saw protesters chant "selmeyah, selmeyah -- "We are peaceful" -- again and again. We saw a military that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect. And we saw doctors and nurses rushing into the streets to care for those who were wounded; volunteers checking protesters to ensure that they were unarmed.
We saw people of faith praying together and chanting Muslims, Christians, "We are one." And though we know that the strains between faiths still divide too many in this world and no single event will close that chasm immediately, these scenes remind us that we need not be defined by our differences. We can be defined by the common humanity that we share.
And above all, we saw a new generation emerge -- a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears, a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.
One Egyptian put it simply: "Most people have discovered in the last few days that they are worth something. And this cannot be taken away from them anymore, ever."
This is the power of human dignity, and it could never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us, and they have done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.
For an Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence -- not terrorism, not mindless killing -- but non-violence, moral force that bent the arch of history toward justice once more.
And while the sights and sound that we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can't help but hear the echoes of history, echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets, Gandhi leading his people down the path of justice.
As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, "There's something in the soul that cries out for freedom."
Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square. And the entire world has taken note.
Today belongs to the people of Egypt, and the American people are moved by these scenes in Cairo and across Egypt because of who we are as a people, and the kind of world that we want our children to grow up in.
The word "Tahrir" means liberation. It is a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom. And forever more it will remind us of the Egyptian people, of what they did, of the things that they stood for and how they changed their country and in doing so changed the world.
Thank you. BLITZER: All right, there he is, the president of the United States, six minutes, powerful words from the president of the United States, as all of us recognize there are very few moments that we can truly be witnesses to history. Today, we saw history unfold, the president speaking directly not only to the American people, but to the entire world, also speaking to the people of Egypt.
It was interesting that Egyptian state television was carrying the president's remarks live. Even as we were watching, the folks in Egypt were watching President Obama as well. Today belongs to the people of Egypt, he said. He wants them to appreciate what's going on. But this is a moment that he also says, know that the United States will continue to be a friend and partner to all the people of Egypt.
This is a time when we are sure that the people of Egypt are listening to the president of the United States.
Gloria Borger is here. John King is here. Dan Lothian is over at the White House.
Let's go to Dan first, our White House correspondent.
I know these words were very carefully crafted by the president and his national security team. He came to the podium from a meeting he had over at the White House Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. They have got a lot on their plate right now, Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really do.
And I should point out that that meeting was not planned. The president did just drop in on his principals who were focused on the situation in Egypt. He wanted to get the latest developments. And that's why his remarks were delayed.
But as you pointed out, I mean, what happened today was sort of what the administration expected would have happened yesterday. There was a lot of confusion. And that's why yesterday when the president was in Michigan, you heard somewhat optimistic comment from him suggesting that the White House itself also believed that Mr. Mubarak was in the process of soon stepping down. That did not happen yesterday.
And so there was a delay in the response from the administration, harsh language from the president in a release that was sent out late last night, but, today, a step that aides here at the White House saying is a welcome step, but certainly as the president himself pointed out, that there are still difficult days ahead. And you heard him speaking directly to the military, saying that they have a responsibility to protect the rights of the people of Egypt.
That is the big concern now that Mubarak has left, who will step in, and what that process will be like before you have the elections in September, Wolf.
BLITZER: He says nothing less than genuine democracy is going to work for the people of Egypt.
Dan, stand by.
Hala, this is a moment, as I said, people in Egypt have been watching, they have been waiting for, for a long time. But who knew it would take 18 days to reach this moment.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, I don't think anybody called it, 18 days, a very short time period when you think of how entrenched this leadership was in Egypt.
Live pictures there on the right-hand side of your screen, this is Tahrir Square, still teeming with demonstrators and protesters. It is a festive atmosphere in the center of Cairo.
Nic Robertson is among the protesters, the demonstrators (AUDIO GAP) demonstrators anymore or protesters.
Are you able to -- I don't know if those in the square are aware that President Obama spoke about them and told the world, Egyptians have inspired us today.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me, let me -- Hala, let me to talk to a couple of people who are with me right now.
Ahmed (ph), you have been down here on the square for many days. The United States, the international community just listened to President Obama say that he will support, America will support Egypt if it wants help and assistance and hopes that there will be a good transition for jobs for the young people.
What would your message be for President Obama?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, we're very sad from Obama's actions that he sometimes support the government, sometimes support the people.
We cannot actually (INAUDIBLE) his support. He serves for his own purposes. And for the youth, and we and the Egyptian people seek for our freedom and democracy. Any democratic country should seek for the best for the people, not for its own purpose.
ROBERTSON: And right now, President Obama is saying that he will give Egypt and the young people of Egypt whatever assistance they want if they want it and if they ask for it. Do you need assistance from the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For sure at the start of our revolution to build up the country again from the (INAUDIBLE) by the bad people here. We surely would need support for the first time, first year at least. But then I think we will be a country that depends on itself, and even should give support to other countries.
ROBERTSON: Thank you very much.
Just one moment again.
Mustafa (ph) -- Mustafa is joining me now.
Mustafa, you've been a doctor in the hospital here. We have just heard President Obama say that he wants to extend support and assistance to Egypt and Egyptians if they want any, and he hopes that there are more jobs for young people in the future.
What is your message for President Obama?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, my message for President Obama is just, we started this revolution without any outside help, and we are going to finish it also without any outside help.
Of course, I'm thanking him for his spiritual support, but we don't need any other extra support from him. I just want to say that this is just the beginning of the revolution. If everyone stayed for the next six months until the next presidential election, with this spirit (INAUDIBLE) here in the square, that means we are going to finish the road the right way.
We have seen everyone here in the street for the last two weeks. It was just marvelous. Everyone is doing (INAUDIBLE) job, doctors, workers, even little children who cleans the street. Everyone was supported by their own feelings. So, we can continue, and this is just the beginning.
ROBERTSON: And President Obama, especially important, said it was important that it went -- had been peaceful mostly so far, and that it's important that it continues peacefully, this revolution. Can it continue peacefully, do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that only depends on who is going to -- who is going to be in charge here. The military is in charge. The military is having to use assistance from the Egyptian people.
So I think if the military kept being in charge for only the next six months, that would be great. Other than that, it's going to be chaos. There's one thing I'm afraid of is that, yes, in Tahrir Square, everything was perfect. But we lack leadership. I'm sorry to say this, but that's the truth. We lack leadership. And right now, we need to develop some leadership, which is going to take us to the road of democracy for the next six months.
ROBERTSON: Where are you going to find those leaders? You're young people. You came together through the Internet. You've been inspired. You've shown solidarity, support here. But where do you find those leaders?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm afraid we have to find them. They are available, but for the last decades, there was no political scene in Egypt, so every leadership was demolished. So, that's the problem we're having right now. And that's why we need this conditional six- month period for anticipation that this is only a transitional period.
ROBERTSON: Are you pleased that President Obama has come out however now and said he supports this change and supports the people and supports the young people and what they have done?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, actually, President Obama's views were kind of conflicting during the last weeks.
But now that he's saying that he is supporting the change, that's a good thing after all. I'm sure that, after all, he's pro-democracy. After all, he just can't be pro anything else.
ROBERTSON: Mustafa, thank you so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
ROBERTSON: And, hopefully, no more casualties in your clinic --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ROBERTSON: So, Hala, the view from here is one of very happy now to hear that President Obama has swung s behind the people here.
There has been this feeling for the past two weeks that the message wasn't clear enough for the people. It was swinging backwards and forwards to President Mubarak. But now that feeling does seem to have changed, and clearly a feeling as well that there is some assistance that is going to be needed in the coming months -- Hala.
GORANI: All right, thanks. And I will be interested in hearing also from those young people when they have an opportunity to go through the entire statement, speech there by President Obama.
Egyptians have inspired us, he said. They have changed the world. So, very interesting there to hear sort of an immediate reaction from them just off the back of that address.
Nic Robertson is in Tahrir Square with the rest of our team on the ground -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: And you can expect -- the people of Egypt can expect the United States, as President Obama just said, to remain a friend and a partner to all the people of Egypt.
We will take a quick break. We have a lot to digest. We're watching what's happening on the streets of Cairo right now. We just heard from the president of the United States. We're getting more international reaction coming in -- coming in as well. Stay with us. Our special coverage will continue right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Approaching 10:30 at night in Cairo, but they're still celebrating. They are going to be celebrating all night in Cairo tonight because Hosni Mubarak is now the former president of Egypt.
He has left Cairo. We believe he's at Sharm el-Sheikh, that resort town in southern Sinai, but he's no longer the president of Egypt. And the millions of people who were protesting against him are very happy indeed. So is the president of the United States. We just heard from President Obama over at the White House saying, very few of us are privileged to witness history, but we did in fact witness history today.
Gloria Borger is here. John King is here.
Gloria, these were carefully crafted words --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: -- and by the president, and I think in part to the American public, the international community, but mostly he was addressing the 80 million people of Egypt.
BORGER: Yes, he was. And it was very clear that this is a president that cares a great deal about those people in the square, because he talked about it as a generational shift.
And he also was very clear, Wolf, to talk about the military as a caretaker to the state. He laid out some definite things that needed to be done, lifting emergency law, revising the constitution, establishing a clear path to free and fair elections.
But I couldn't help but think of Barack Obama himself, somebody who represents generational change in this country, change in so many ways in this country, somebody who grew up, who was in Indonesia, for example, and he mentioned that, a president actually who -- who was unburdened by a 30-year relationship with Mubarak, as many of our former leaders were, a much younger person who was able to be a part of this, a small part of it, but a part of it nonetheless.
KING: And yet a writer, Barack Obama is, who knows, when you close one chapter and turn the page, the new chapter is blank.
KING: And it has yet to be written. And they have a lot of questions. That's why the president said there will be difficult days ahead. He tried to be very optimistic, lending his moral and political support to those young people.
But, Wolf, frankly, in the White House Situation Room today, they don't know what's next. They know they have good relationships with the leaders of the Egyptian military, and they're confident that those are relationships based on trust and understanding. But they don't know what -- how many political parties will emerge, how strong will the Muslim Brotherhood be, if there is actually a pluralistic, many, multi-party democracy elections six months from now. What will the reaction in Israel be? I had fascinating conversation with Mike Hayden, the former CIA director, in which he said today, Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki are probably celebrating, because you have had the fall of a key U.S. ally.
What General Hayden said, though, was, if you can have this democracy, that would be the worst possible thing for bin Laden and al-Awlaki and the Islamist forces, because it would be so in conflict with their values to see democracy sprout up in the Arab world.
But to get from where we are today, to fill this next chapter, there are so many huge and consequential questions, which is why the president is trying to keep those tears and all that energy going into the very difficult part of actually now building a political system.
BLITZER: And working with the Egyptian military, which, at least in the interim period, is now the key player in Egypt.
BORGER: Right. Right.
First all, we don't really know what Suleiman's role is at this particular point.
BLITZER: If he has a role.
BORGER: If he has any role.
BLITZER: He's the vice president.
BORGER: Well, actually, we assume he doesn't have a role. He's clearly not going to be acceptable to the people in the square and the people out on the streets. And so we're going to have to see what occurs with that.
But the military is, of course, key here. And I think one of the unsung heroes in all of this may be our own defense secretary, Gates, who has been in close contact with his counterpart in the Egyptian military.
KING: Five conversations. They refused to talk about them at the Pentagon. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs, these guys -- Secretary Gates has this relationship going back to his CIA days, of course, and Admiral Mullen back to the Gulf War days.
The United States military -- remember that first Gulf War, Wolf. I spent a week with now Field Marshall Tantawi's troops in the Saudi desert. Those relationships were built back then. They are critically important now.
BLITZER: Very good relationship between U.S. military commanders and Egyptian military commanders. A whole generation has been trained here in the United States.
BLITZER: And most of the military hardware, the sophisticated equipment of Egypt, is U.S. made.
We will take a quick break. We will continue our coverage.
The White House, by the way, getting ready for a press briefing on what's going on. It happens to be the press secretary Robert Gibbs' final briefing over the White House. We will check in over there.
We will also go back to Cairo to see what is going on.
Stay with us. Our special coverage will continue.
GORANI: We have a minute before going to the White House for a press briefing on the situation in Egypt. Arwa Damon is among the crowd there. Arwa, the U.S. president said Egyptians have inspired us. Ask people around you what their reaction to that statement is.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the crowd here is so excited I can actually hardly hear what you're saying. I'm just going to give them a chance to talk, express their emotions on what truly is a historic day, not just for Egypt but for the region as a whole.
Most people are not able to find -- afford vegetables and very expensive lessons as well. We want security and disability for the future of Egypt. She says, very happy, very proud.
GORANI: We're having a bit of trouble hearing you, Arwa, but we get an idea there. President Obama and the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs right now with more on the Egypt situation.
OBAMA,: Well, listen, obviously Gibbs' departure is not the biggest one today.
Having said that, I thought I should come into the briefing room just to say a few words about my departing press secretary. As some of you know, Robert started very early with me on this wild ride that I've been on. I had run for the United States Senate. I was not expected to win.
When I won the Democratic primary in Illinois, I realized that I was going to have to start staffing up a little bit. At the time I only had I think six, seven people working for me. And I still didn't have a lot of money so all I could afford was Gibbs.
So Robert came to work with me, and we had what appeared to be a pretty significant general election. And then Allen Keyes came in. And so that ended up not being our primary focus. We then had this incredible opportunity to speak at the national convention in Boston. And I know that a lot of you think that probably most attention was devoted to the speech that I delivered, the keynote speech, in Boston, but, in fact, actually the most challenging problem was what tie to wear.
And this went up to the very last minute. I mean, ten minutes before we were about to go on stage we were still having an argument about ties. I bought five, six ties. And Michelle didn't like any of them, Axelrod didn't like a couple of them, him being one of the best- dressed men in the world.
So we really valued his opinion. And then somebody -- I don't remember who it was -- turned and said, you know what? What about Gibbs' tie? What about Gibbs' tie? That might look good. And frankly, Robert didn't want to give it up, because he thought he looked really good in the tie. But eventually he was willing to take one for the Gipper, so he took off his tie and I put it on. And that's the tie that I wore at the national convention.
He has not said anything about this tie all these years, but I have to tell you that I know there's a simmering resentment that he never got it back.
And so, as a consequence, I wanted here today -- I wanted this on the record, on camera, that I am finally returning Robert's tie. And if he chooses to break the glass, he can.
But this is going to be a reminder to me that Robert has not only been an extraordinary press secretary, but he has been a great friend. And you could not ask for somebody better in the FOX hole with you during all the twists and turns of my candidacy and then the incredible challenges that we've faced over the last two years.
So I'm so proud of him, and everybody here loves Robert. He's going to be working closely with us. I don't think we could have a better press secretary. I think Jay is going to do an outstanding job filling Robert's shoes, but I certainly couldn't have a better friend at the podium each and every day. So I wanted to say congratulations.
QUESTION: Is it signed?
OBAMA: Of course.
QUESTION: What does it say?
OBAMA: I didn't actually sign the tie because as I said he may decide he wants to wear it. It just says, I thought that I should finally give you your tie back. It and you helped me get started. All right? Thank you, brother.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you.
OBAMA: Thank you. You notice, by the way, that he bought one just like it.
GIBBS: I like that tie.
QUESTION: Anything further about Egypt?
GIBBS: I like that tie. Let me say just a few things before we get down to talking about what we have every day and what we should every day, and that's the business of the country. It is a tremendous honor and privilege to do this each and every day, to serve and to take part in days like today that are so momentous. And I want to thank the president and all of his team for, again, the privilege to serve.
I don't want to spend a lot time doing this. I don't talk about myself well, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about a group of people that I want to be clear doesn't work for me, but I have the great privilege and am lucky enough to work with.
I would not want to do this job, as amazing and as exciting as it is, without them. And I wouldn't have made it through it without them. I don't intend today or tomorrow to tell any of you goodbye because I don't intend to go anywhere. You all are forever a part of this experience for me. You've become a greater extension of my family. We've shared a lot of extraordinary times.
I will miss boring days like today at the White House.
I should tell you that for all of you that are looking for help on your morning shows that Jay likes calls around 4:15 in the morning. If you don't get through at first, just keep dialing. Again, it has been an extraordinary privilege, and I will have more to say to all of these guys and more to say to those of you that are in the back of the room that have meant so much to me and continue to mean so much to me.
But before I lose it, we should probably start the 250th briefing of the Obama administration with Mr. Feller.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. Well, first of all, congratulations to you.
GIBBS: Thank you. I would have bet a serious sum of money that Bill Plant wouldn't have dunked me. I would have lost that bet and gotten wet.
QUESTION: Regarding Egypt, first of all, can you tell us whether President Obama was surprised by the news this morning?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think that throughout the morning we had gotten and into last night indications that the last speeches may not have been given and the last changes, particularly this morning with the -- with everybody reporting that there would be a statement from the office of the president.
So the president, as I think many of you have reported, was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the oval when a note was taken in to him to let him know what had been announced. And since then, prior to giving the statement, he spent about an hour with his national security team from about 1:30 to 2:30 in the Situation Room talking about what's going on there now and what we have to plan for now going forward.
QUESTION: He learned when he got that note after the announcement essentially he learned with the rest of us.
GIBBS: Well, he learned what precisely had been said. I don't want to get into what other information he might have gotten.
QUESTION: Big picture, is this change helpful or harmful to the interests of the United States?
GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think that anytime that a government change is based on the popular response of its people, as you've heard the president talk about a lot, is important. All governments have responsibilities to those that they represent. I think as you heard the president say in his statement, there will be many bumps along this road, as this transition continues toward free and fair elections.
So I don't doubt, as I said, there will be -- there's much work to be done. This was -- this is the beginning of that process, not the end of it.
QUESTION: Does the president have any concerns as that process unfolds about the unknowns, about the instability right now?
GIBBS: I think partnership that we've had with the people and the nation of Egypt for 30 years has brought regional stability and has brought peace, particularly between the countries of Egypt and Israel. And I think it's important that the next government of Egypt, as we've said in here many times, recognize the accords that have been signed with the government of Israel.
You know, I think that, again, a lot is yet to be determined. I think it is clear, though, watching the events unfold over the last couple of days the real breadth of Egyptian society that's been out seeking the type of change that we saw happen today. I don't think this is dominated by a single group or a single ideology. I think the breadth is quite wide.
QUESTION: Robert, since the protest began, all of your statements about Egypt have been very carefully worded. I thought last night's statement from the president was especially carefully worded. Mubarak wasn't even mentioned. Did the president have a sense then when he issued that statement that maybe the speech yesterday from Mubarak wasn't the final word?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is safe to say that the very same contacts that we have in Egypt are some of the very same contacts that many of you all had, that seemed to tell everyone that a different speech might be what we would hear that we didn't hear last night.
And I think, as the statement says, it was at that point a missed opportunity for the government of Egypt to take the necessary steps toward that orderly transition. I think that was -- and I think quite frankly, Karen, that's been true building throughout the week that you have seen as the government failed to take the necessary steps to broaden the coalition and to make some fundamental reforms that would signal to those in the opposition that they were serious, the crowds grew larger and larger.
So there is no doubt I think that there has -- this is -- this is a situation where I think the phrase we've used a lot around here is "threading the needle." There are a lot of equities in the country and in the region. And ultimately this is something that started with, was driven by, and will ultimately only be solved by the people of Egypt. I think that is true in the lead-up to the historic announcement today but will be even more important in the days ahead leading to elections.
QUESTION: Can you talk about any contacts or leaders in the region that have taken place since the announcement?
GIBBS: Since the announcement today? The president has not made any phone calls either to those in region or not talked to any heads of state.
QUESTION: What about senior-level -- what kind of assurances, if any, can you give Israel and Jordan about how this may affect them and their concerns about stability?
GIBBS: Well, look, we have throughout this process wanted to see protests that were peaceful, protests that were -- our outcome in this process we wanted to see happened in an orderly way to ensure some of that very stability. I think that if you -- that's what quite frankly has guided us this entire time.
The president, again, has not spoken with anybody. I do not believe at this point, though you should check more carefully with the Pentagon in terms of whether in the last few hours I don't think there have been any contacts. Obviously we've got pretty good relationships, as you've seen throughout this process, on a military to military basis.
I will say it is remarkable to watch in the region how Iran is dealing with this. You know, we saw I think about a week or so ago they made some provocative statements about what these marches meant. We now know how they're responding to the images that we see in Tahrir Square. They are arresting people in Iran. They are blocking international media outlets. They are turning off the Internet.
So for all of the empty talk about Egypt, I think it's the Iranian government -- I think it's up to -- the Iranian government should allow the Iranian people to exercise the very same right of peaceful assembly and ability to demonstrate and communicate their desires.
I think we've all seen, again, their response. The head of the Revolutionary Guard said today "Seditions are no more than a corpse. We will severely crush any of their movements." So I think what you've seen in the region is the government of Iran quite frankly scared of the will of its people. Jay?
QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. Before I ask my last questions of you in this room, good luck. I hope you get to spend a lot of time with -- I've also looked back at all the questions you said you'd get back to us with an answer that you didn't come back with starting in January of 2009.
GIBBS: Jay will have a transcript of all of those on Monday. If you don't get it, keep pinging him.
QUESTION: When is the last time President Obama spoke with President Mubarak?
GIBBS: I'd have to double-check, but I believe it was -- I think it was right before he spoke -- it was Monday, right in the Monday that he spoke, the last one.
QUESTION: The last time you announced --
GIBBS: There haven't been any calls that I'm aware.
QUESTION: Under the Obama administration the State Department changed the way that civil society in Egypt was funded, first of all. It didn't directly defend civil society groups, pro-democracy groups, as the Bush administration had done it and instead it went through the Egyptian government through approval civil society groups, and it also lowered that much civil society groups were funded. In retrospect, does the Obama administration regret that?
GIBBS: No, look, I can give you a little bit longer fact pattern on this. I think that -- I think our commitment to the universal principles that the president has talked about throughout this process, and in countries not just in Egypt and not but around the world are best exemplified by what he said standing in Cairo, saying many things you've heard him say over the past several days.
Obviously we are -- we are watching the situation, and will as I think members have testified just in the last day or so up on Capitol Hill will tailor our assistance to a changing situation.
QUESTION: OK, and lastly, Egypt has been a tremendous ally to the United States, according to the government, on the issue of counterterrorism. Where are you concerned that there might not be as much support in the next government, whoever it is? What areas?
GIBBS: Well, I will say this, Jay. Obviously we're going to watch the events as you and many others will in the days and months ahead. I can say that our -- the important relationships that we have at different levels in our government with their government, I think the president was assured continued, and particularly the one you mentioned.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert, all the best in your next endeavor. Can you talk to us about the role that the vice president played in what ended up happening in Egypt? I know he sent a strongly worded letter to his counterpart, Mr. Suleiman, two days ago. Can you describe his role?
GIBBS: Look, I think the vice president has -- we talked about it in here. He had a counterpart-to-counterpart relationship with Vice President Suleiman and has on a number of occasions spoken directly with him, and quite honestly to have reiterated largely the very same set of points that you've heard us make public, and that is that the genuine steps that need to be taken to address the concerns that those in Tahrir Square and throughout the country have had.
I think he has -- he's been -- he's been on the phone fairly regularly. I think obviously he has brought to meetings in the situation room and the Oval Office, like last evening, quite a bit of knowledge and experience in foreign affairs and foreign policy that have helped guide the administration along the last 18 days or so.
QUESTION: Was that phone call though, did you get the readout with some of the demands, was that a pivotal moment in this crisis?
GIBBS: Look, I think that -- I think it's probably hard to go back and pinpoint all of them, but I would say that it was hard to -- hard to I think be any clearer and more blunt than the vice president was on that call about the steps that -- that we, that the international community and most importantly the people of Egypt needed to see happen, and I think that -- I think that certainly helped move this process along.
QUESTION: Yesterday when the president made his comments on Egypt at the top of his remarks in Michigan, was the White House at that time fairly optimistic that Mr. Mubarak was going to step down yesterday?
GIBBS: Well, as I said, Dan, I said earlier in this briefing, I think many of the same contacts that we had are, the same contacts that your network and many others in this room have been reporting what might happen in Egypt yesterday.
I think the president talked about historic transformations which we've seen quite frankly play out each and every day in the last 18, but I think what's important now is we have to look forward and work -- help all work through a process to get us to the free and fair elections that so many have spent time yearning for.
QUESTION: Finally, just to follow up on what Ben was asking. I'm not sure I heard an answer to this notion of concern from the White House as to what happened between now and the elections in September. Is there concern about what the leadership structure will be like and what could potentially happen before the people of Egypt start voting in September?
GIBBS: Well, again, I think that -- I don't think we have to fear democracy. I don't -- I think the international community has, and, again, I think most importantly the people have laid out a series of steps that they need to see taken.
But I think it's important, Dan, to understand that this was -- this was a group of demonstrations and protests that demonstrated the breadth of concern across Egyptian society. Again, I don't -- I don't think you can look at it and say this was the group that did this or these are the people that -- again, what you've seen is mothers and daughters. You've seen this process in some ways led by somebody that works for, as I said a couple of days ago, one of the larger companies in the Silicon Valley.
So I think this is -- what you've seen is the breadth of cause and concern that had to have been addressed and need to be addressed by the government, and I think today was the very first step in that process.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert, and congratulations. I hope it was as good for you as it was for us.
GIBBS: He's trying to bait me, and I'm not going to bite.
QUESTION: You said obviously there's going to be some bumps in the road and the military needs to lay out a clear path. What is going to be the role of the president, the vice president, the secretary of state publicly over the next weeks and months? Do they now pull back and say, OK, this is really up to the Egyptian people now and we're not going to intervene, or do they keep up the public pressure with statements?
GIBBS: I think, again, first and foremost, this was always about the people of Egypt. This always was going to be solved by the people of Egypt. No statement here, no comment that was made here was going to I think bring the fundamental change that people were looking forward to in Egypt.
We talked about it a lot here. I think the people in Egypt, again, they had their concerns, and they are not going to be the definition of how to solve those concerns is not going to be -- not going to be solved here, but, again, I think we will continue to try to play as constructive a role in -- in helping this process along, but, again, I think this started with the Egyptian people, and it will end with the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: But do you think the president and vice president, the secretary of state will be as publicly out there and pressing the military?
GIBBS: I think what we've seen -- well, I think at every step along this way we have been very clear about the response, and you heard the president discuss it today, about violence, and I think it's remarkable.
What we've seen in the past 18 days in terms of the type of sweeping change is unlike anything we've ever seen in a short period of time, and I think the next process of this is going to play out over a much longer arc.
We will continue to be involved and to ensure that the transition -- the transitional government in Egypt and ultimately the government that the people choose to represent the people of Egypt, if they take the steps that are necessary to meet the concerns of those in Egypt, then this government will be a strong partner to it and to all of our friends in the region.
QUESTION: Why exactly did the president choose not to call foreign leader, Egyptian leaders or other leaders in the region over the last day or two?
GIBBS: Let me go back and see if there's been any yesterday. He has not talked to anybody today. I think -- I think we have -- I think we're watching events and monitoring them, and I don't doubt in the days ahead that the president will reach out to those, but this is an Egyptian story today.
QUESTION: And the last question. Is there a hope in the White House that the example in Egypt could inspire another uprising in Iran?
GIBBS: Well, I -- as I mentioned earlier, I think the -- there is a -- quite a contrast between the way the government of Egypt and the people of Egypt are interacting and the government of Iran is threatening its very own people.
I think if the government of Iran was as confident as they would have you believe in the statements that they put out, they would have nothing to fear with the peaceful demonstration like those that you've seen in Cairo and throughout Egypt.
They're not that confident. They're scared. That's why they have threatened to kill anybody that tries to do this. That's why they have shut off all measure of communication.
I think it speaks volumes -- it speaks volumes about the strength and the confidence that they have and in fulfilling the wishes and the will of its people.
QUESTION: Robert, do you have any sense if the images coming from Egypt are somehow getting into Iran? We've heard the vice president and you talk about Iran. I'm wonder if the administration thinks there's a chance that the message is getting in somehow to Iran?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think we have all seen reports that, you know, over the past many days that there -- those in Iran have -- have -- have and want to march and demonstrate peacefully. The government of Iran, again, has met those -- the concerns of its people with threatening to kill them. Again, I think it speaks volumes as to what -- it speaks volumes to the grip that they have or lack thereof on the popular beliefs of their own people.
QUESTION: Can you talk about Vice President Suleiman's role at this point? Is he still in a key role or is he on his way out, as well?
GIBBS: Mike, I -- I think that is a -- I think that is a question for the transitional government in Egypt.
QUESTION: Talk a little bit, if you don't mind, about the communications challenge with this even unfolding halfway around the globe. Trying not to get ahead of the message. How challenging was that?
GIBBS: Well, look, as I said earlier, I --
BLITZER: All right. Well, here he is, Robert Gibbs wrapping up this, his final day as the White House press secretary, almost all of his briefing dealing with Egypt, what has happened, the history under folding in Egypt.
At the beginning, you saw President Obama go in there and praise his press secretary and longtime aide.
Very interestingly, even though most of this briefing was on Egypt, he did go out of his way, as Vice President Joe Biden did earlier in the day, to lash out at the regime in Iran. This is a government of Iran, Gibbs just said, that's threatening its own people.
He said they are fully scared by the will of its -- they are quite frankly he said scared by the will of its own people, and that's why he's saying that what has happened in Egypt right now, where the uprising resulted in the revolution, the people of Egypt responding, getting rid of a dictator.
He's saying the Iranian government is taking brutal measures right now to prevent that from happening in Iran.
We will stay on top of this part of the story.