Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waded into crowds Wednesday at the symbolic heart of the uprising that toppled Egypt's longtime autocratic leader, urging the country's temporary leaders not to allow the revolution to fizzle or be compromised by extremists.
As the Obama administration sharpened its criticism of Bahrain's crackdown on protesters, Clinton heaped praise on the anti-government demonstrators whose peaceful protests in the central Tahrir Square ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak last month. And she said she hoped that people everywhere would look back on the revolt and regard it as "one of the most important historic turning points" in the Middle East.
"The pyramids are magnificent but nowhere near as magnificent as what you have already done," she told American and local Egyptian employees at the U.S. Embassy. She called on them to help protect the achievement so that "no one is permitted to hijack this revolution, no one is permitted to turn the clock back on this revolution, no one is permitted to claim it for only one group of Egyptians and exclude other Egyptians."
"That will be the challenge," she said. "And we will help in any way possible."
Clinton's two-day visit to Egypt is aimed at encouraging the Egyptian people and their transitional leaders to hold true to the ideals of democratic reforms that propelled the revolution. Her trip underscores U.S. concern that gains made since Mubarak's ouster may be lost to impatience or to the rise of an extremist or authoritarian new leadership.
Yet her expression of U.S. support for democratic change across the region was prescient, coming as soldiers and riot police expelled hundreds of protesters from a square in Bahrain's capital, using tear gas and armored vehicles. At least five people were killed Wednesday.
Clinton called the situation "alarming." And she delivered strong criticism of Bahrain and its Persian Gulf neighbors, saying they are on the "wrong track" by trying to quell unrest with troops instead of democratic reforms.
Surrounded by a heavy contingent of U.S. and Egyptian security guards, Clinton took an unscheduled 15-minute stroll through the square, smiling, waving and shaking hands with bystanders who thronged her. Many thanked her for visiting the heart of the anti-government demonstrations while others fought for a glimpse or a photo of the secretary of state, the highest level U.S. official to visit Egypt since Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11.
Without mentioning any political parties, Clinton said the revolution must remain inclusive and urged Egyptians to build on the euphoria that Tahrir Square spawned by embracing universal values. "It was very exciting and moving for me to go to Tahrir Square and to have some sense of what those amazing days must have been like here in Cairo," she told interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf at his office.
Clinton then met with the chief of the Armed Forces Supreme Council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. She was also meeting with Amr Moussa, a former top diplomat who is now head of the Arab League and is seeking Egypt's presidency.