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Obama White House Labels Egyptian Protests as 'Middle Class' Uprising


At least 20 people have been killed so far in widespread violent protests against the government and the 30-year reign of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"I would not refer to him as a dictator," Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday, calling Mubarak an "ally" of the United States and insisting his government should not step down in the face of protests now spreading across 11 of Egypt's 28 territories.

"President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East. But I've always said to him that making sure that they're moving forward on reform -- political reform, economic reform -- is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt," he told PBS News Hour. "And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets. My main hope right now is that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence."

Instead, the vice president suggested the Mubarak administration should grant "a little more access and a little more opportunity" to the Egyptian people, labeling the unrest as an expression of "middle-class folks."

"I hope Mubarak ... is going to respond to some of the legitimate concerns that are being raised," Biden said.

On Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs echoed the vice president's remarks, once again characterizing the widespread political protests as being driven by the middle class.

When asked about the "composition" of the protest groups -- namely what proportion of them may be involved in the Muslim Brotherhood -- Gibbs suggested that the protesters belong to "the Egyptian middle class."

The protests in Egypt closely follow recent uprisings in Tunisia and coincide with similar unrest in Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon.

"A lot of these nations are very dissimilar. They're similar in the sense that they're Arab nations, dissimilar in the circumstance," Biden insisted. "I don't see any direct relationship, other than there seems -- it might be argued that what is happening in one country sparks whatever concern there is in another country. It may not be the same concern. It may not be even similar, but the idea of speaking out in societies where, in the recent past, there hadn't been much of that occurring. ... I could be proven wrong. But I think it's a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe."

"These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian government must understand that violence will not make these grievances go away," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added Friday. "As President Obama said yesterday, reform is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt."

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