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July 05, 2013

Obama Faces Tough Choices on Egypt

by Kent Klein

President Barack Obama is facing difficult choices in shaping U.S. policy toward Egypt after the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday. The White House is assessing how best to encourage both democracy and stability in Egypt.
 
Two days after his ouster, supporters of Egypt's ex-president clash with demonstrators who want him out - reflecting that nation's division and the quandary left for U.S. policymakers.

A military officer announced the removal of Morsi after barely a year in power. Large crowds of Egyptians had pushed for his removal.

President Barack Obama has spoken in public only once since the overthrow, and he did not mention what many are calling a military "coup" in Cairo. Over two days, the president has discussed the situation with his national security advisers.

Obama issued a written statement Wednesday, expressing “deep concern” about the military’s move. He urged the military to quickly and responsibly “return full authority… to a democratically-elected civilian government as soon as possible.”

Obama’s statement was seen by some people as criticizing Morsi's ouster.  

Administration officials, in meetings and phone calls, however, seemed to signal to Egypt and other U.S. allies that the White House accepts the military’s act.

And some Washington analysts have advised the administration to align itself with the Egyptian military. They call it “the only safe harbor in the relationship,” and “the one actor the United States can still influence.”

Others, such as Jon Alterman, director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, say the U.S. should engage with Egypt’s whole political spectrum.

“I think we should have a relationship with the military, but we should also have deeper relationships with the business community, and deeper relationships with the academic community, and deeper relationships in the provinces and so on, because Egyptian politics are going to be shifting for many years to come,” said Alterman.

In his statement, Obama avoided using the word “coup” when referring to the events in Cairo.

At stake is more than $1.5 billion a year in U.S. aid to Egypt, most of it to the military. U.S. law requires cutting off aid to any country in which an elected government is deposed in a military coup.

Alterman said the law does not take into account a situation like the one in Egypt, and he believes U.S. lawmakers will work around it.

“The response to the law, the common sense approach to U.S. interests, to the U.S. relationship with Egypt, to the U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military, is going to be [that] people will find some way not to make a judgment on that, so that it does not disrupt the bilateral relationship,” he said.

Later, the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee issued a joint statement implying that it was time for Morsi to go. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel also encouraged the military to exercise extreme caution and support sound democratic institutions.