WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama called Sunday for a "representative government" in Egypt and said that regardless of when President Hosni Mubarak steps down the country had changed forever.
"The Egyptian people want freedom, free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsive government. We've said, you have to start a transition now," Obama told Fox television.
Pressed on whether President Hosni Mubarak was going to quit now, Obama replied: "Only he knows what he's going to do. Here's what we know is that Egypt is not going to go back to what it was.
"He's not running for re-election. His term is up this year," he added.
Opponents of Mubarak's embattled regime on Sunday dismissed as insufficient an offer to include them in political reform plans and renewed their demand that the president step down now, rather than after elections in September.
In a landmark concession, Vice President Omar Suleiman agreed to sit down with the groups, which included the banned Muslim Brotherhood, but the talks produced no immediate breakthrough in the two-week-old standoff.
As night fell, central Cairo's now iconic Tahrir Square was still filled with thousands of anti-regime protesters, adamant that the start of dialogue will not divert them from their campaign to unseat Egypt's strongman.
Some Western observers have expressed concern that the Brotherhood could sweep to power and institute an Islamist regime that would be no more democratic and might break Egypt's close alliance with Washington.
There are also worries, particularly in Israel, that under the Brotherhood Egypt could adopt a much more hostile stance towards the Jewish state, even tearing up their 1979 peace treaty, signed after four wars.
Obama was keen to stress that Egyptian society was wider than just the Muslim Brotherhood but admitted some of their positions were a concern.
"I think they're one faction in Egypt," he said. "They don't have majority support in Egypt. But they're well organized. There are strains of their ideology that are anti-US. There's no doubt about it."
"There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt. A whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well," Obama said.
"It's important for us not the say that our only two options are the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people. I want a representative government in Egypt. I have confidence that if they move in an orderly path, we can work together."