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U.S. in policy bind as democracy falters in Egypt

August 15, 2013 by Scott Bomboy


President Barack Obama is cancelling military exercises with Egypt in reaction to violence between Egypt’s military-backed government and Muslim Brotherhood supporters. But the President now faces issues at home about his administration’s continued financial aid to the troubled country.

Mohammed Morsi
Mohammed Morsi

More than 500 people have died in Egypt since yesterday in fighting between the interim military-supported government and supporters of the Brotherhood and the nation’s deposed, elected president, Mohammed Morsi.

The Egyptian government has declared a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

On Thursday morning, President Obama spoke about the deteriorating situation in Egypt.

"America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” said the President. “We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure."

He urged, at least indirectly, that the powers in Egypt return to a path to democracy, or at least, an elected government.

"All parties need to have a voice in Egypt's future,” he said. President Obama also called for the state of emergency imposed by the government to be lifted.

So far, the Obama administration hasn’t labeled Morsi's ouster from elected office as a “coup,” which would then require the Obama administration to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the violence in Egypt.

"Today’s events are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion, and genuine democracy,” Kerry said.

“We also strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law and we call on the government to respect basic human rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law."

But the Obama administration will faced increased criticism at home about its policies in Egypt, and its refusal, at least for now, to suspend military aid to a nation that has taken a serious detour on the road to democracy.

In early July, Egypt’s military removed Morsi from office and it suspended Egypt’s constitution.

At the time, President Obama said, “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.”

In June, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the upper house of parliament (which was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood) and an assembly that drafted Egypt’s constitution were unconstitutional, which was a key factor in the military’s subsequent move to suspend constitutional law.

The interim government has said it will ask the assembly and several committees to amend Egypt’s new constitution. It is expected that the revised document could eliminate references to Sharia law and place restrictions on freedom of the press in Egypt.

Morsi became Egypt's first elected president in June 2012, but his administration faced popular discontent and growing opposition from the military. He replaced former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in February 2011.

Currently, Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour is serving as Egypt's interim president.

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