The US has called for a quick return to democratic rule in Egypt. But with billions in aid at stake, Washington has stopped short of calling President Morsi's overthrow by the military a coup d'état.
More than two years after US President Barack Obama backed the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak, Washington has stepped aside while the Egyptian military has ousted the country's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi.
On Wednesday, President Obama issued a carefully worded statement, calling on Egypt's generals to quickly restore democratic rule. But Obama seemed to express tacit support for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who had taken to the streets of Egypt in recent days, demanding that the Islamist dominated government resign.
"No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people," the US president said in his press release. "An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians want and deserve."
While State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that the US "was not taking sides" in Egypt's latest political crisis, she also faulted President Morsi for not proposing steps to address the opposition's concerns.
"You're seeing a clash between values and interest here," Tarek Radwan, an Egypt expert with the Atlantic Council, told DW. "Naturally, [US] values say a stable democracy is good in the long term. Our interests, however, say a military coup is in fact a good thing here."
'Green light from the US'
According to Khalil al-Anani, the US offered Morsi a deal. He would have become a figurehead president, delegating his powers to an opposition-appointed prime minister, while suspending the Islamist-backed constitution. When Morsi refused the offer, arguing that he was the democratically elected leader of Egypt, the military forced him from power.
"What I've heard from a senior advisor to Morsi, is that the United States offered Morsi a way out and when he rejected, it was done, and they gave a green light to the army to make the coup," Al-Anani, an expert on Egypt with Durham University, told DW.
From the moment Morsi was elected president in June 2012, his relationship with the US was a difficult one. The Islamist politician had been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and an opponent of Israel. That raised concern in Washington about whether Morsi would seek to undermine Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. The Islamist assured an uneasy White House that he would fulfill Cairo's international obligations.
But in September of 2012, as protesters stormed the American embassy in Cairo, President Obama made a revealing statement about Washington's changing relationship with Egypt: "I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we do not consider them an enemy," Obama told the Spanish-language channel Telemundo.
"They were not happy with Morsi, but they had nothing to do but to accept him as the legitimate president," al-Anani told DW. "But the first chance they got, they got rid of him."
Military aid questioned
In response to Morsi's ouster, President Obama said that he had ordered a review of the $1.5 billion in aid that Egypt's military receives from the US every year. But the president delicately avoided calling the army's intervention a coup d'état.
"The reason for that is to continue the foreign military assistance to Egypt," Radwan said. "Aside from the strong military-to-military relations, naturally all the financial assistance buys privileges for the United States. It's essentially a subsidy for the defense industry. There are some very strong business interests in the United States that would like to see that continue."
But Senator Patrick Leahy, the head of the committee responsible for foreign aid, said that US law on the matter is clear.
"U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” Leahy said.
According to Radwan, the last of that aid money was transferred in May. So even if Washington did move to cut off foreign assistance to Cairo, it would have little practical impact on Egypt's military. The Egyptian armed forces would then have had time to return power to a democratically elected government before the appropriation of a new round of aid came up for debate next year.
Al-Anani, however, said that both the US and the Egyptian military currently run the risk of alienating not just the Muslim Brotherhood, but Islamists in general in Egypt. And political alienation could feed extremism.
"There is a very good chance for al Qaeda to capitalize on what's happening now in Egypt and recruit many young Islamists, because the argument of al Qaeda is that democracy is not something good for us," al-Anani said. "[Al Qaeda argued] if democracy brought an Islamist government, the West would not support it, and what happened now, this argument has been proven true from the al Qaeda perspective."
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