CAIRO — A new rally Friday by nearly 100,000 protesters in Cairo and behind-the-scenes diplomacy from the Obama administration piled more pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to make a swift exit and allow a temporary government to embark on an immediate path toward democracy.
Two days of wild clashes between protesters and regime supporters that killed 11 people this week seemed to have pushed the United States to the conclusion that an Egypt with Mubarak at the helm is potentially more unstable than one without him.
For the first time in the 11-day wave of protests, varying scenarios were being put forward by two opposing camps in Egypt and by the United States on how to usher the country into a post-Mubarak era after nearly 30 years of his authoritarian rule.
President Barack Obama said that discussions have begun in Egypt on a turnover of the government and he called for "a transition period that begins now."
"We want to see this moment of turmoil turned into a moment of opportunity," Obama said in Washington. He did not explicitly call for Mubarak to step down immediately, but U.S. officials said the administration has made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if the crisis is to end peacefully.
Under one U.S. proposal, the 82-year-old Mubarak would step down and hand power to a military-backed temporary government headed by his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks. The government would prepare for free and fair elections later this year.
That would mesh in some ways with the demands of the protesters. But one significant difference was the timetable.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protesters, criticized the government's plan to reform the constitution within five months and hold presidential elections in September, saying that was too rushed.