The Obama administration turned to its top officials to tout democracy and political transparency for Egypt, a message that took on a hollow tone as the Egyptian military installed a new leader for the country and began rounding up its ousted president and his supporters.
2013-07-05, News 24 and agencies
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and national security adviser Susan Rice were among those who briefed President Barack Obama on Thursday on their calls to counterparts in Egypt, Israel, Turkey and other US partners in the region.
The calls conveyed “the importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
The US officials also pushed for what Meehan called “a transparent political process that is inclusive of all parties and groups” and urged that those in charge of Egypt’s government avoid any arbitrary arrests of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his supporters.
Avoiding violence by any group or party was also part of their message, she said in an emailed statement.
Behind the scenes, the US was signalling to Egypt and its allies that it accepts the military’s decision to depose Morsi, and was hoping that what fills the vacuum of power would be more favourable to US interests and values than Morsi’s Islamist government.
But those hopes were tempered by very real concerns that a newly emboldened military would deal violently with the Muslim Brotherhood, sending Egyptian society further into chaos and making reconciliation more difficult.
In spite of US urging, Egyptian authorities arrested and detained the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, General Guide Mohammed Badie, on Thursday.
Morsi, a leading member of the Brotherhood, and at least a dozen presidential aides already had been placed under house arrest.
The military also oversaw the swearing-in of Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Egypt’s interim president. The Muslim Brotherhood declared it wouldn’t work with the new government and called for a wave of protests.
Morsi’s ousting also threatened a divided reaction in Congress. One view tended to support the Egyptian military’s action because of the long-time partnership between the US and Egyptian military officials as well as perceived threats by Morsi to the type of democracy Egyptians aspired to during their 2011 revolution.
Another view, however, noted that US law called for an end to aid to a country if a military deposed its democratically elected government, even amid promises of a return of power to its people.
Obama on Wednesday, while notably not calling Morsi’s ouster a coup, said he was ordering the government to assess what the developments portended for aid to Cairo.
The US considers the $1.5bn a year it sends Egypt to be a critical US national security priority.
The administration faced difficult choices amid the ongoing crisis. If it denounced the ousting of Morsi, it could be accused of propping up a ruler who had lost public support.
Yet, if it supported the military’s action, the administration could be accused of fomenting dissent or could lose credibility on its commitment to the democratic process.
The administration is acting as if it accepts what happened in Egypt – and actually believes it could turn out for the best with the Islamist Morsi no longer in charge.
At the same time, officials are attempting to keep their distance, laying down markers for what they want to see in the long term while leaving it up to the military to make sure that happens.
But the White House may also be concerned that in the short term, the situation could spiral out of control, with the military using the clamouring in the streets as an excuse to confront the Muslim Brotherhood with excessive force.
In bringing up US aid in conversations with Egyptians without cutting it off, the US leaves itself room to escalate the situation if need be, but also to work with Egypt’s new government if it moves in the right direction.
After Morsi’s ousting on Wednesday, Obama said the US would “not support particular individuals or political parties,” acknowledging the “legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people” while also observing that Morsi 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. “Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution.”
Egyptian military leaders have assured the Obama administration that they were not interested in long-term rule following their toppling of Morsi.
The chairperson of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told CNN after Morsi’s ousting that the US had been assured by the Egyptian military that US citizens there would be protected.
Still, the State Department ordered all nonessential US diplomats and the families of all American Embassy personnel to leave Egypt. – AP
Brotherhood calls for ‘Friday of Rage’
Cairo — Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called for a wave of protests on Friday, furious over the military’s ousting of its president and arrest of its revered leader and other top figures, underlining the touchy issue of what role the fundamentalist Islamist movement might play in the new regime.
There are concerns of Islamist violence in retaliation for Mohammed Morsi’s ousting, and some former militant extremists have vowed to fight.
Suspected Islamic militants opened fire at four sites in northern Sinai, targeting two military checkpoints, a police station and el-Arish airport, where military aircraft are stationed, security officials said. The military and security responded to the attacks, and one soldier was killed and three were wounded, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to reporters.
The question of the role of the Brotherhood has long been at the heart of democracy efforts in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in 2011, and previous authoritarian regimes banned the group. After Mubarak’s fall, the newly legalised group vaulted to power in elections, and its veteran member Morsi become the country’s first freely elected president.
Now the group is reeling under a huge backlash from a public that says the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies abused their electoral mandate. The military forced Morsi out on Wednesday after millions of Egyptians turned out in four days of protests.
Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, with which Morsi had repeated confrontations, was sworn in as interim president.
Friday of Rage
In his inaugural speech, broadcast nationwide, he said the anti-Morsi protests that began on 30 June had “corrected the path of the glorious revolution of January 25”, referring to the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.
The Brotherhood charged the military staged a coup against democracy and said it would not work with the new leadership. It and harder-line Islamist allies called for a wave of protests on Friday, naming it the “Friday of Rage”, vowing to escalate if the military does not back down.
Brotherhood officials urged their followers to keep their protests peaceful. Thousands of Morsi supporters remained massed in front of a Cairo mosque where they have camped for days, with line of military armoured vehicles across the road keeping watch.
“We declare our complete rejection of the military coup staged against the elected president and the will of the nation,” the Brotherhood said in a statement, read by senior cleric Abdel-Rahman el-Barr to the crowd outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo.
“We refuse to participate in any activities with the usurping authorities,” the statement said, while urging Morsi supporters to remain peaceful. The Rabia al-Adawiya protesters planned to march Friday to the Ministry of Defence.
The Brotherhood denounced the crackdown, including the shutdown on Wednesday night of its television channel, Misr25, its newspaper and three pro-Morsi Islamist TV stations. The military, it said, is returning Egypt to the practices of “the dark, repressive, dictatorial and corrupt ages”.
Cycle of revenge
A military statement late on Thursday appeared to signal a wider wave of arrests was not in the offing. A spokesperson, Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali, said in a Facebook posting that that the army and security forces will not take “any exceptional or arbitrary measures” against any political group.
The military has a “strong will to ensure national reconciliation, constructive justice and tolerance”, he wrote. He spoke against “gloating” and vengeance, saying only peaceful protests will be tolerated and urging Egyptians not to attack Brotherhood offices to avert an “endless cycle of revenge”.
The constitution, which Islamists drafted and Morsi praised as the greatest in the world, has been suspended. Also, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the Mubarak-era top prosecutor whom Morsi removed to much controversy, was reinstated to his post and immediately announced investigations against Brotherhood officials.
Many of the Brotherhood’s opponents want them prosecuted for what they say were crimes committed during Morsi’s rule, just as Mubarak was prosecuted for protester deaths during the 2011 uprising. In the past year, dozens were killed in clashes with Brotherhood supporters and with security forces.
The swift moves raise perceptions of a revenge campaign against the Brotherhood.
The National Salvation Front, the top opposition political group during Morsi’s presidency and a key member of the coalition that worked with the military in his removal, criticised the moves, saying, “We totally reject excluding any party, particularly political Islamic groups.”
Arrests prompted by fears
The Front has proposed one of its top leaders, Mohamed ElBaradei, to become prime minister of the interim Cabinet, a post that will hold strong powers since Mansour’s presidency post is considered symbolic. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate who once headed the UN nuclear watchdog agency, is considered Egypt’s top reform advocate.
“Reconciliation is the name of the game, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We need to be inclusive,” Munir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, a leading member of the group, told The Associated Press. “The detentions are a mistake.”
He said the arrests appeared to be prompted by security officials’ fears over possible calls for violence by Brotherhood leaders. There may be complaints against certain individuals in the Brotherhood “but they don’t justify the detention”, he said, predicting they will be released in the coming days.
Morsi has been under detention in an unknown location since Wednesday night, and at least a dozen of his top aides and advisers have been under what is described as “house arrest”, though their locations are also unknown.
Besides the Brotherhood’s top leader, General Guide Mohammed Badie, security officials have also arrested his predecessor, Mahdi Akef, and one of his two deputies, Rashad Bayoumi, as well as Saad el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and ultraconservative Salafi figure Hazem Abu Ismail, who has a considerable street following.
Authorities have also issued a wanted list for more than 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. Among them is Khairat el-Shater, another deputy of the general guide who is widely considered the most powerful figure in the Brotherhood.
The arrest of Badie was a dramatic step, since even Mubarak and his predecessors had been reluctant to move against the group’s top leader. The ranks of Brotherhood members across the country swear a strict oath of unquestioning allegiance to the general guide, vowing to “hear and obey”. It has been decades since a Brotherhood general guide was put in a prison.
Badie and el-Shater were widely believed by the opposition to be the real power in Egypt during Morsi’s term. Badie was arrested late on Wednesday from a villa where he had been staying in the Mediterranean coastal city of Marsa Matrouh and flown by helicopter to Cairo, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.
Mahmoud, the top prosecutor, said he was opening investigations into the killing of protesters during Morsi’s rule. He ordered el-Katatni and Bayoumi questioned on allegations of instigating violence and killing and put travel bans on 36 others, a sign they, too, could face prosecution. He also took steps toward releasing an activist detained for insulting Morsi. – AP