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US President Barack Obama speaks in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 11, 2011 after the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders following 18 days of protests. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 11, 2011 after the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders following 18 days of protests. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama eloquent, but short on specifics, in praising Egyptians Add to ...

President Barack Obama paid tribute to Egypt's multitudes for resolutely sweeping aside a repressive, brutal regime.

"In Egypt it was the moral force of non-violence - not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force - that bent the arc of history," Mr. Obama said in a speech that hardly mentioned, and certainly didn't praise, Hosni Mubarak, the iron-fisted ruler of Egypt and America's closest, most loyal Arab ally for 30 years.

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"Today belongs to the people of Egypt," the U.S. President said as celebratory tumult still convulsed Cairo. But he also warned "there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered."

Mr. Obama compared Egypt's extraordinary 18 days since the uprising began to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Gandhi's "Great March."

"There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place," Mr. Obama said. "This is one of those moments"

Mr. Obama made no mention of other Arab rulers who have long been close American allies and now face unrest in their streets. He lauded Egypt's army "that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect," and said the military must "ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people."

But beyond calling for elections that are free and fair, Mr. Obama avoided setting benchmarks or expectations, promising only "the United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt," and will "provide whatever assistance is necessary."

Long on eloquence but limited in specifics, the President's speech seemed designed to capture the historic moment without either provoking uprisings in other Arab states or committing his administration to any precise course of action in Egypt.

"Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years," Mr. Obama said holding out hope that a thriving democracy in the Arab world's most populous state could be an example to the rest of the region.

"Egypt will never be the same," the President said. The mostly peaceful multitude that refused to back down in the face of threats and violence, he added, "changed their country, and in doing so changed the world."

Mr. Obama's handling of the Egyptian crisis has drawn fire from some critics. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, considered a likely Republican presidential candidate, said Mr. Obama should "get tough on our enemies - not on our friends."

And in a biting reference to former Democratic president Jimmy Carter's handling of the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the shah, then one of America's closest allies in the region, Mr. Pawlenty said: "Barack Obama is not behaving like Ronald Reagan. He's behaving like Jimmy Carter."

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