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WASHINGTON, Feb 7: US President Barack Obama has assured the American public that a change in Egypt will not necessarily bring religious extremists to power.

The country, he said, had “a whole bunch of secular folks” who could come forth in a political change triggered by a popular uprising against 30 years of despotic rule.

In an interview with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News on Sunday night, Mr Obama again declined to ask President Hosni Mubarak to go, but said that Egypt had changed permanently.

“Egypt is not going to go back to what it was,” before two weeks of continuous street protests. “The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsive government. And so, what we've said is you have to start a transition now...”

Mr Obama's response to questions on both Mr Mubarak's fate and the Muslim Brotherhood's role in a future political set-up reflect the dilemma he faces at home. On the one hand, the US Senate has unanimously adopted a resolution, urging the Obama administration to use its influence to persuade Mr Mubarak to step down.

But other influential people, both in and outside the US Congress, want Mr Obama to continue to back Mr Mubarak because he has been “a good friend and ally of the United States”.

Also, since the beginning of this uprising, many in the United States have suggested that a sudden change in Egypt could create a void, allowing radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to move in. President Obama, however, disagreed with this suggestion, saying that he was less concerned about a radical takeover in Egypt.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don't have majority support in Egypt, but they are well organized and there are strains of their ideology that are against the US, there's no doubt about it,” he said.

“But here's the thing that we have to understand, there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well. So it's important for us not to say that our own only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed people.”

The US, Mr Obama said, must make sure “that we get all the groups together in Egypt for an orderly transition and the one that is a meaningful transition.” Responding to those who want him to ease Mr Mubarak out, Mr Obama said the US could not force out the Egyptian president, but he assured them that the Egyptian people will no longer allow unresponsive government without representation or free and fair elections.

With that in mind, an orderly but meaningful transition to a new government will reduce the possibility of a radical, anti-American government, the US president argued in a pre-Super Bowl XLV interview.

The Super Bowl is the most watched event in the United States. Last year, a record 106.5 million people watched the Super Bowl and apparently that's why Mr Obama used it to clarify his position on the situation in Egypt.

“What I want is a representative government in Egypt and I have confidence that if Egypt moves in an orderly transition process, they will have a government in Egypt that will work together with us” as partners, Mr Obama said. Although unable to force Mr Mubarak to quit, “what we can do is we can say, the time is now for you to start making change in that country,” he said.

President Obama said that the United States had told President Mubarak publicly and privately for many years that he cannot continue to suppress the Egyptian people.

“Part of the message that I think we're seeing all around the world is when you resort to suppression, when you resort to violence, that does not work,” he said.

While questioning Mr Obama on domestic issues; Mr O'Reilly, a strong opponent, abruptly asked him: “Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?” Mr Obama laughed a little and then responded. “You know, the truth is that the people — and I'm sure previous Presidents would say the same thing, whether it was Bush or Clinton or Reagan or anybody — the people who dislike you don't know you. “But they hate you,” Mr O'Reilly stressed.

“The folks who hate you, they don't know you,” said Mr Obama. “What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there and they don't know you. And so, you don't take it personally.” “You don't ever?” prodded Mr O'Reilly one final time. “Doesn't it annoy you sometimes? “I think that by the time you get here you have to have had a pretty thick skin. If you didn't, then you wouldn't have got here,” said Mr Obama.