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Biden on Mubarak: ‘I would not refer to him as a dictator.’

Whose bright idea was it to send Joe Biden out to talk about Egypt? The U.S. vice president just made a major faux pas tonight, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Dan Murphy reports: Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of ...

Whose bright idea was it to send Joe Biden out to talk about Egypt?

The U.S. vice president just made a major faux pas tonight, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Dan Murphy reports:

Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that — to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there."

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with — with Israel.… I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

He also appeared to make one of the famous Biden gaffes, in comments that could be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of protesters’ demands. Monitor Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick, other reporters in the country, and activists have generally characterized the main calls of demonstrators as focused on freedom, democracy, an end to police torture, and a more committed government effort to address the poverty that aflicts millions of Egyptians.

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: "We’re encouraging the protesters to — as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and — and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out." He also said: "I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable … accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt."

Egypt’s protesters, if they’re paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.

Earlier today, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs turned some heads when he said of the protests, "This is not about taking sides." But if you look at the full context of his remarks, it’s clear the Obama administration is still counting on the Mubarak regime toughening this one out.

This evening, about 10 minutes after the Associated Press posted a video appearing to show a man being shot in the head (unconfirmed reports on Twitter later said he had died), Egyptians began reporting that their Internet access had been cut off, and an Italian company that provides a major backbone confirmed that its ties to Egypt had been severed. Other reports warned that Egyptian mobile companies were cutting off text-messaging services.

Tomorrow, the protesters have called for massive demonstrations after Friday prayers, and many are worried that the Egyptian regime will use the opportunity to launch a major crackdown. Arabist.net reports that plainclothes security goons have been seen "pouring gasoline on vehicles and setting them on fire" and that policemen were "loading vans with clubs, nails, metal bars and other objects."

Egypt has yet to pass the point of no return, but if tomorrow gets even uglier, I hope the Obama administration gets its story straight.

UPDATE: Click here for a full rundown of Obama administration statements on Egypt.

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