WASHINGTON — The question of the day for observers watching the political upheaval in Egypt Wednesday: is it a military coup or isn't it? In his first comments on the day's action, President Obama didn't weigh in on that one.
The military ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi could carry with it serious implications for the billions in foreign aid the United States sends Egypt each year. If what happened Wednesday is ruled "a coup," the U.S. may no longer be legally able to provide aid to one of the country's strongest Muslim-majority allies in the Middle East region.
In his statement on the news out of Egypt, Obama said he was "deeply concerned" by the military's moves and warned that it could threaten aid. But he didn't weigh in on the "coup" question.
"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," Obama said in the statement. "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."
Obama's statement took a harder line with the Egyptian military than members of Congress did in their initial responses to the ouster or Morsi. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, said in a statement that the Egyptian armed forces are "perhaps the only trusted national institution in Egypt today" and stood by the critics who called Morsi's government undemocratic. "Egyptian people have made clear that President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government has threatened the pluralistic democracy," he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, also blamed Morsi's government for failing to unite Egypt.
"It is so sad that the promise of the Egyptian Arab Spring was not fulfilled by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood," she said. "Let us hope that the next steps in Egypt's transition are truly reflective of the hopes and dreams of the vast majority of the Egyptian people."
Obama's full statement:
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. Since the current unrest in Egypt began, we have called on all parties to work together to address the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, in accordance with the democratic process, and without recourse to violence or the use of force.
The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by 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.
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. During this uncertain period, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts. Moreover, the goal of any political process should be a government that respects the rights of all people, majority and minority; that institutionalizes the checks and balances upon which democracy depends; and that places the interests of the people above party or faction. 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.
No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people. 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.