Egypt's time for change is now: Obama

Egypt is ready for political change and will not go back to what it was before historic pro-democracy rallies swept the country, U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday night.

U.S. President comments after Egypt's VP meets with opposition

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Egypt is ready for political change and will not go back to what it was before historic pro-democracy rallies swept the country, U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday night.

Speaking to Fox News, the president said the U.S. could not "forcefully dictate" whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should step down after 30 years of authoritarian rule, but could only encourage the leader to relinquish his post.


Live blog from CBC journalists in Cairo. Live video (when available).

Reporter Nahlah Ayed:

"Life is closer to normal today than at any point in the past 12 days."

Reporter David Common:

"Thousands upon thousands of people continue to stream into that square day and night. They continue to lie down in front of the Egyptian army tanks, trying to prevent military vehicles from moving into the square and trying to clear the crowd."

"What we can do is say the time is now for you to start making a change in your country," Obama said. "Mubarak has already decided he's not going to run again."

The president also played down expectations that Egypt's most organized opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, would take a major role in a new government, reasoning they are only "one faction in Egypt" and did not have majority support in the North African nation.

Obama's remarks came after Egypt's Vice-President Omar Suleiman convened talks there with opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood said Sunday's negotiations with the recently appointed vice-president were well-intentioned, but did not go far enough.

Suleiman agreed to press freedoms and to lift the country's longtime emergency laws once security is stabilized. As well, demonstrators arrested since the start of the protests will be released.

A group including opposition organizations will study constitutional amendments that would pave the way for political reform.

Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a senior member of the Brotherhood, told Al Arabiya network the government statement represented "good intentions but does not include any solid changes."

Suleiman's meeting with opposition organizations occurred as demonstrations against Mubarak's regime continued for a 13th day.

Articles in constitution need immediate change

Fotouh said certain articles in the constitution needed to be changed immediately, specifically one covering presidential elections, which put Mubarak's ruling party in a position to choose the next president. Another amendment would restrict the president from running for unlimited presidential terms.

Until change happens, Fotouh said, people will remain in the streets.

An anti-government protester shouts anti-Mubarak slogans at Tahrir Square in Cairo. ((Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters))

A variety of officials took part in the negotiations, including members of secular opposition parties, independent legal experts, a representative of opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, according to Reuters.

The negotiations marked the first time the Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned in Egypt, has held direct talks with the government. In the past, Egyptian officials have accused the group of trying to overthrow the secular order.

Senior Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mursi said his representatives would be sticking to the protesters' main condition that Mubarak step down after nearly 30 years in power.

Mubarak has said he would not run for the presidency again in elections slated for September, but has insisted he will serve out the remaining seven months of his current term to supervise a peaceful transfer of power.

Countries such as Israel and the U.S. have worried that the anti-government protests would end with an Islamist government eventually running the country.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Assam el-Aryan said his party won't contest the next election, but it will help with the transition of power.

"We are ready for any duty, any burden that can be given to us as a task for the future of our country," he said.

On Saturday, Hossam Badrawi, the new secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, replaced Safwat El Sherif, who resigned from the post. At the same time the president's son, Gamal Mubarak, stepped down as head of the party's policies committee.

Doctors, medical supplies enter protest square

Several women were among the anti-government demonstrators who continued to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square as the weekend came to a close.

As thousands of chanting protesters gathered in the square, doctors in white coats came with medical supplies, the CBC's David Common reported from the scene.

Protesters have been camped out in the square for a week, but supplies have been flowing in for the past two days.

Meanwhile, garbage trucks were making the rounds again and banks near the square were able to reopen on Sunday.

Several women joined the anti-Mubarak protest in Tahrir Square on Sunday. ((Nahlah Ayed/CBC))

People have been clamouring to get into the banks amid reports that automated tellers have been running out of money.

Overnight, the army set up checkpoints farther away from the square in central Cairo. David Common said he saw the army confiscating food and other supplies and he heard they were turning away cars but letting pro-government supporters through.

The UN estimates at least 300 people have been killed and thousands more wounded in the unrest in Egypt.

Stability in Egypt of global concern: Cannon

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said it's up to Egyptians to determine the political makeup of their country, but Canada is calling for respect for human rights, religious freedoms and for Egypt to continue to recognize the state of Israel.

"There must be stability in that region because it does affect global security," Cannon told CBC News on Sunday in an interview from Ottawa.

Cannon revealed that nearly 500 Canadians have opted to voluntarily leave Egypt on flights arranged by the Canadian government.

When the service to help Canadians leave the country for connecting flights in Europe began early last week, Foreign Affairs estimated that about 6,500 Canadians were in Egypt, including 1,200 registered with the Canadian Embassy.

Regular commercial flights out of Egypt are still available, Cannon noted.

With files from The Associated Press