The White House on Friday urged the Egyptian government to "immediately" address the "legitimate grievances" of protesters surging through the streets, saying it's not too late for President Hosni Mubarak to respond to the unrest with needed political reforms.
"Their grievances have reached a boiling point, and they have to be addressed," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Suggesting the administration is trying to keep an arm's length from the turmoil engulfing one of its most important Middle East allies, Gibbs declared, "This will be solved by the Egyptian people."
But Gibbs described the situation as "fluid" and issued several stern warnings for the leadership in Cairo.
He repeatedly said the administration will review its "assistance posture" based on the events of the next few days -- a reference to the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid that goes to Egypt. He urged both protesters and security forces to show restraint. And echoing comments earlier by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gibbs urged the Egyptian government to "turn the Internet and social networking sites back on."
"The legitimate grievances that have festered for quite some time in Egypt have to be addressed by the Egyptian government immediately, and violence is not the response," Gibbs said.
The press briefing came after a raucous day of clashes between government forces and protesters in Egyptian cities. Al Jazeera reported that five people were killed in the Egyptian city of Suez. As the sun set, thousands continued to defy a nationwide curfew and the country's military deployed in Cairo.
The protests marked the most significant challenge to Mubarak's 30-year rule and it has U.S. officials scrambling to determine an appropriate response. Officials have sought not to take sides but have continually adjusted the tone of their remarks. Vice President Biden said in an interview Thursday that Mubarak should not step down and seemed to downplay the significance of the protests. On Friday, as images of violent clashes emerged, Clinton said the United States has become "deeply concerned" about the government's use of force. She called on Mubarak to "restrain the security forces" as it tries to quell the protests.
"We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters," Clinton said. "The Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away."
Clinton said "reform is absolutely critical," expressing support for the "universal human rights of the Egyptian people." At the same time, she urged protesters to "express themselves peacefully" and refrain from using violence.
The administration also issued a travel alert warning American citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the country.
Gibbs said a "robust set of meetings" is under way to determine the U.S. response and assess the situation. "This is not about picking a person or picking the people of a country," he said.
Asked about concerns that the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood is playing a big role in the protests, Gibbs said the protesters are not monolithic but declined to entertain questions about what a new regime could mean for U.S. interests.
He called for the government to pursue a "meaningful dialogue" with its own people to address possible reforms.