President Barack Obama bluntly told Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak he has to deliver on promises of reform and democracy - a tough warning that suggested Washington was willing to abandon the embattled dictator who has, for 30 years, been America's best friend and closest ally in the Arab world.
"When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech, and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words; to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise," the U.S. President said after a day of violence engulfed Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
It was the clearest indication yet that Mr. Obama might jettison long-standing and reliable American allies as the unfolding and historic protests swept the Arab world.
Mr. Obama called for an end to violence - but with Egypt's heavily armed police, security forces and army all massed in the streets facing civilian protesters, restraint depended mostly on the authorities.
After a long-standing policy of tolerating authoritarian - sometimes repressive and ruthless - regimes in the Arab world for decades as long as they were reliable American allies, Mr. Obama has suddenly been confronted with the reality that he may be on the wrong side of history with his belated demands that Arab dictators embrace democracy and human rights.
"The future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people, and I believe that the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want: a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair and just and responsive," Mr. Obama said yesterday.
He added, "the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people," a pledge that may ring hollow in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, given Washington's refusal to deal with elected Arab governments it regards as extremist.
Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly warned Egypt's rulers to turn the Internet back on and restore the communication links that have proved vital in spreading news of mounting unrest across the Arab world, including Tunisia.
Egypt's rulers "need to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms," she said in what some saw as a clear hint the Obama administration isn't willing to back the aging and ailing Egyptian President who has moved to install his son as a successor.
Ms. Clinton verged on bestowing legitimacy on the anger and grievances that have fuelled the mounting demonstrations that became violent confrontations with the security forces.
"These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away," she said.
While the Obama administration stopped short of taking sides, it also delivered a tough warning to Egypt's military.
"This is not about picking a person or picking the people of a country," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in what must amount to stunning news to Mr. Mubarak.
He said continued U.S. aid to Egypt - more than $3-billion annually and more than one-third of it in highly sophisticated military hardware - would be reviewed in light of what happens over the next few days. In effect, should the army attack civilian protesters, the pipeline of U.S. military money that has given Egypt's military officers some of the world's fanciest and deadliest weapons may get shut down.
The Obama administration "will be reviewing our assistance posture" based on how events unfold, he said.
Ms. Clinton earlier said: "We support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including freedom of expression, association and of assembly."