February 10, 2011 / 5:30 PM / 9 years ago

Egypt VP democracy comment misunderstood-state agency

CAIRO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Comments by Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman to U.S. television stations suggesting Egyptians were not yet ready for democracy were taken out of context, the state news agency MENA said on Thursday.

Mubarak appointed Suleiman as his deputy after massive protests erupted from Jan. 25 against poverty, corruption and political repression.

Mubarak said he would not run again for president and promised a series of political reforms, and talks with opposition parties including long banned Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood have begun.

But protesters have continued on the streets, occupying Tahrir Square in central Cairo, and demanding Mubarak resign.

“Some sentences given to American station ABC were understood wrongly, especially his comment on democratic transition in Egypt, in that he affirmed he believes in democracy,” the state news agency MENA said.

“He said ‘we are striving for the culture of democracy to spread in Egypt’ and any other interpretation of these words is wrong and inappropriate,” it said.

In the ABC interview in Cairo on Monday, Suleiman was asked if he believed in democracy. Speaking English he answered: “For sure everybody believes in democracy, but when you will do that? When the people here would have the culture of democracy.”

Suleiman told ABC Islamist groups were goading young people in Arab countries to rise in protest against their governments.

“This is the Islamic current who pushed these people,” he said. “I don’t think that’s only from the young people, others are pushing them to do that.”

Egypt’s uprising followed a revolt in Tunisia that saw President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali flee the country on Jan. 14 and Yemen, Jordan and Algeria have also seen large protests.

The uprisings have stunned Arab governments, nearly all of them authoritarian administrations, and the Western governments who back them. They appear to have been organised mainly by young people who used the Internet and social media sites to mobilise.

Suleiman’s comment on democracy was attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement and a leading Islamist group in the Arab world.

“This idea is completely unacceptable,” leading figure Essam al-Erian told reporters on Wednesday. “These are the words of someone who wants to delay democracy as long as possible.”

In the MENA statement, Suleiman offered words of praise for the young protesters of Jan. 25, who the government says are different from those who are still in Tahrir — described as having agendas and being influenced by infiltrators.

“The vice president affirmed in a statement today his appreciation for the youth of Jan. 25, saying it was a movement that affirms the democracy Egypt is witnessing today,” it said. (Editing by Alison Williams)

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