Obama Condemns Morsi, Interim Egyptian Government, but Makes No Mention of U.S. Aid

In a statement, the president amps up the rhetoric on Egypt, but takes modest action.

President Barack Obama makes a statement to the media regarding events in Egypt, from his rental vacation home in Chilmark Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
Aug. 15, 2013, 6:51 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama on Thursday offered tough talk and a small — and per­haps sym­bol­ic — ac­tion to con­demn the blood­shed in the streets of Cairo, keep­ing stra­tegic aid in place while can­celing a long-stand­ing mil­it­ary ex­er­cise with Egypt.

“Our tra­di­tion­al co­oper­a­tion can­not con­tin­ue as usu­al as ci­vil­ians are be­ing killed in the streets, rights are be­ing rolled back,” the pres­id­ent said in a state­ment while on va­ca­tion in Martha’s Vine­yard. But don’t mis­take these words for the pres­id­ent com­pletely cut­ting off ties with the re­gion. He made no men­tion of the con­tested $1.3 bil­lion that the U.S. sends in aid to the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment, which in­cludes such items as jet fight­ers. In­stead, the pres­id­ent an­nounced he will can­cel a joint mil­it­ary ex­er­cise between the U.S. and Egypt called Bright Star, a tra­di­tion stem­ming from the 1978 Camp Dav­id Ac­cords.

Obama also stressed that the United States will not be tak­ing polit­ic­al sides in Egypt. “Amer­ica can­not de­term­ine the fu­ture of Egypt,” he said. “That is a task for the Egyp­tian people. We don’t take sides for any par­tic­u­lar party or polit­ic­al move­ment.”

Yet he had some harsh words for the now-de­funct Mor­si gov­ern­ment. “His gov­ern­ment wasn’t in­clus­ive and didn’t re­spect the views of all Egyp­tians,” Obama said. But the cur­rent power struc­ture in place is ob­ject­ively no bet­ter. The latest re­ports say more than 520 are dead in Egypt after Wed­nes­day’s vi­ol­ence in Cairo. “We’ve seen a more dan­ger­ous path taken,” the pres­id­ent said. “The United States strongly con­demns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s in­ter­im gov­ern­ment and se­cur­ity forces. We de­plore vi­ol­ence against ci­vil­ians.”

This is the latest in a series of in­cre­ment­al in­creases of “con­cern” by the pres­id­ent. Up to now, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the on­go­ing un­rest has been more rhet­or­ic­al than ac­tion-ori­ented. Obama has called for cool­er heads and demo­cracy to pre­vail, but as his crit­ics will point out, he has not yet de­cided to la­bel the un­rest a “coup” and cut off $1.3 bil­lion in aid to the na­tion. (For some per­spect­ive, George Pack­er in The New York­er points out that Qatar provided $8 bil­lion to Mor­si, “and Saudi Ar­a­bia, the United Ar­ab Emir­ates, and Kuwait im­me­di­ately prom­ised $12 bil­lion to the in­ter­im re­gime”). O n Wed­nes­day, when asked if the changes in Egypt should now be con­sidered a coup, deputy White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est said,  “It is not in the in­terests of the United States to make that de­term­in­a­tion.” Though, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry called the events “de­plor­able” and “a ser­i­ous blow to re­con­cili­ation.”

Last month, when mass protests forced then-Egyp­tian Pres­id­ent Mo­hamed Mor­si out of of­fice, Obama said, “I now call on the Egyp­tian mil­it­ary to move quickly and re­spons­ibly to re­turn full au­thor­ity back to a demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted ci­vil­ian gov­ern­ment as soon as pos­sible through an in­clus­ive and trans­par­ent pro­cess, and to avoid any ar­bit­rary ar­rests of Pres­id­ent Mor­si and his sup­port­ers.”

Clearly, auto­mat­ic rifle fire and tear gas were not what the pres­id­ent had in mind when he said “move quickly and re­spons­ibly.”

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