WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is treading carefully after Egypt's military overthrew its president, wary of taking sides in a conflict that pits a democratically elected leader against a people's aspirations for prosperity and inclusive government.
Denounce the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi outright, and the U.S. could be accused of propping up a ruler who's lost the public's support — a prospect with eerie echoes of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, whom the U.S. supported for decades before the 2011 revolution that cleared the path to power for Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. But look the other way, and the U.S. could be accused of fomenting dissent or lose credibility on its commitment to the democratic process.
So President Barack Obama, in his first, cautiously crafted comments after Morsi was forcibly removed from office, said the U.S. would "not support particular individuals or political parties," acknowledging the "legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people" while also observing that Morsi, an Islamist, won his office in a legitimate election.
"We believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people," Obama said in a statement late Wednesday. "Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution."
He notably stopped short of labeling Morsi's ouster a coup, leaving himself some wiggle room to navigate a U.S. law that says the government must suspend foreign aid to any nation whose elected leader is ousted in a coup d'etat. But Obama did say he was ordering the government to assess what the developments portended for aid to Cairo. The U.S. considers the $1.5 billion a year it sends Egypt to be a critical U.S. national security priority.
"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," Obama said after huddling in the White House Situation Room with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top aides.