WASHINGTON — Several hours after the Egyptian military’s 48-hour deadline for President Mohamed Morsi expired and the yearlong ruler was shown the door, the White House finally spoke about the ouster without using the word “coup.”
But the statement wasn’t lacking warnings to the military or subtext about desiring a continued role for the Muslim Brotherhood.
President Obama huddled with a stream of Cabinet members in the White House after the military acted swiftly on its promise, telling Morsi at 1 p.m. Eastern time that he was out after refusing to agree to a power-sharing presidency.
The resulting statement tried to be equally critical of each side, reflecting the administration’s continuing refusal to take a stand while the Egyptian protesters decried the U.S. president for propping up the Muslim Brotherhood regime.
“As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law,” Obama said.
Obama said Washington “is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt” and expressed deep concern over “the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution.”
“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 Morsy and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt,” he continued.
Under the Foreign Assistance Act, the U.S. government must suspend foreign aid to any country that undergoes a coup. The definition of what happened in Egypt would be determined by the administration’s review. The Obama administration didn’t budge when lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) urged a suspension of aid for the human-rights violations under Morsi’s regime.
“The United States continues to believe firmly that the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties —secular and religious, civilian and military,” Obama continued in a hint that his administration doesn’t want to see the Muslim Brotherhood left out. “…The voices of all those who have protested peacefully must be heard – including those who welcomed today’s developments, and those who have supported President Morsy. In the interim, I urge all sides to avoid violence and come together to ensure the lasting restoration of Egypt’s democracy.”
As the White House was releasing the statement, reports emerged that arrest warrants had been issued for 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saad El-Katatni, who heads the political arm of the Brotherhood, and Rashad Bayoumi, the deputy head of the Islamist movement, were reportedly detained.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad confirmed on Twitter Wednesday night that Morsi is under house arrest.
“No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people,” Obama added. “An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians seek and what they deserve. The longstanding partnership between the United States and Egypt is based on shared interests and values, and we will continue to work with the Egyptian people to ensure that Egypt’s transition to democracy succeeds.”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, further warned that Egyptian aid, which flowed to the Morsi regime, could be cut off.
“The Morsi government has been a great disappointment to the people of Egypt, and to all who wish Egypt a successful transition to responsive, representative government under the rule of law. He squandered an historic opportunity, preferring to govern by fiat rather than work with other political parties to do what is best for all Egyptians,” Leahy said.
“Egypt’s military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise. In the meantime, our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” the senator continued. “As we work on the new budget, my committee also will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture. As the world’s oldest democracy, this is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms.”
Other lawmakers, though, weren’t so eager to hastily push Egypt to its next step.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, said elections “are but one step in the democratic process – the new transitional authority must engage constructively with all political actors and finally begin the hard work of building democratic institutions that remain severely underdeveloped throughout Egypt.”
Casey traveled to Egypt in April and stressed work is needed to allow the country to “once again emerge as a genuine leader in the region.”
“Democratic reform will take time following years of autocratic rule by Mubarak and democratic backsliding in recent years,” he said. “During this tenuous period, the U.S. should be vigilant in support of the democratic process, a free and open press and minority rights in the country.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) responded carefully, noting “circumstances in Egypt are rapidly unfolding.”
“During this period of upheaval it is critical that all parties exercise restraint, that protests are peaceful, and that violence is rejected. Already too many lives have been lost during this period of unrest, including that of an American citizen,” Menendez said. “It is imperative that a political solution be reached for the sake of the Egyptian people, and that the nation quickly returns to a democratic and peaceful path where the people’s voices are heard and respected.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) criticized the administration for not supporting that democratic process thus far.
“While popularly elected, President Morsi’s government curtailed freedom of religion and equal rights for the Egyptian people as the country’s economy fell into a drawn out period of stagnation,” Issa said.
“Real democracy is about more than just one election – it requires a framework of justice and respect for the rights of all. Unfortunately, U.S. policy toward Egypt did too little to promote true democracy and avoid the necessity of the events that have taken place,” the chairman continued. “The people of Egypt and institutions, including the Egyptian military, historically have been friends and allies to the United States. Our country must support the aspirations of the Egyptian people for a democratic government that respects the rights of all citizens.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called it “unfortunate that Morsi did not heed popular demands for early elections after a year of his incompetent leadership and attempting a power grab for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“Morsi was an obstacle to the constitutional democracy most Egyptians wanted,” Royce said. “I am hopeful that his departure will reopen the path to a better future for Egypt, and I encourage the military and all political parties to cooperate in the peaceful establishment of democratic institutions and new elections that lead to an Egypt where minority rights are protected. But make no mistake about it, Egypt is in for very difficult days.”
Adly Mansour, chief justice of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, will be Egypt’s interim president and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei will be interim prime minister.
At the State Department today, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said as the ouster unfolded she would not “rank the sides.”
“We don’t take sides, as you know,” Psaki said, adding that they’d been in touch with “all the factions of the Morsi government” as the situation unfolded.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with the now ex-president in March, did not issue a statement on Morsi’s ouster.
Though Washington was generally subdued about the dramatic power shift, some lawmakers took to Twitter with their opinions.
“Coup in Egypt a painful development amid mass protests and disaffection w elected govt, albeit a Muslim Brotherhood one,” tweeted Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
“Congratulations to the people of Egypt, they have forced out a dictator and president that did not represent their values,” tweeted Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) gave an American political spin to the massive rally celebrating Morsi’s ouster in Cairo.
“Special #FF to everyone involved in the world’s largest Tea Party rally currently taking place at Tahrir Square,” Walsh tweeted.