The opposition in Egypt criticised Western powers yesterday after they backed new talks between Hosni Mubarak's regime and protest leaders but drew back from calls for the president to go.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate, accused the US of sending mixed messages that had "created a lot of confusion (and) a lot of disappointment".
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, called for an "orderly transition", a statement that some Egyptians have interpreted as tacit support for Mr Mubarak remaining in office, at least for a while.
Mr Mubarak has promised not to contest elections due to be held in September. But he has refused to stand down before then.
His position appeared to win American backing when Frank Wisner, US President Barack Obama's special envoy to Egypt, described Mr Mubarak as an "old friend" of the US and said that the president should stay in office during the transition.
The US State Department had distanced itself from Mr Wisner's comments, saying that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity.
But Mrs Clinton was noticeably vague on the question of Mr Mubarak holding on to office while the constitution was reformed.
"The Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections," she told National Public Radio in America.
"That's what the US has consistently supported."
Fearful of growing instability in a country that is both a vital Western ally and a pivotal Middle Eastern state, Western politicians have grown increasingly cautious about Mr Mubarak's fate.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for "visible" signs of change in leader-ship but he, too, stopped short of setting a timetable for Mr Mubarak's departure, saying only that the Egyptian government needed to "do more". (© Daily Telegraph, London)