The United States declined on Wednesday to criticize Egypt’s military, even as it was ousting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power.
Minutes before Egypt’s army commander announced that Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, had been deposed and the constitution suspended, the U.S. State Department criticized Morsi, but gave no public signal it was opposed to the army’s action.
Asked whether the Egyptian army had the legitimacy to remove Morsi from power, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We’re not taking sides in this.”
The muted U.S. response to the dramatic events in Cairo suggested that Washington may be willing to accept the military’s move as a way of ending a political crisis that has paralyzed Egypt, a long-time U.S. ally.
Still, the distant attitude toward Morsi, who has come under U.S. criticism in recent days, could open up President Barack Obama to complaints he has not supported democracy in the Arab world.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the State Department to the military’s announcement that it was installing a technocratic government to be followed by elections.
But the fact that the Egyptian military announced plans for elections and a constitutional review, and that those plans were backed by the country’s leading Muslim and Christian clerics, could help the transition roadmap earn Washington’s backing.
Earlier, Psaki had made clear that U.S. officials were disappointed in Morsi’s speech on Tuesday night. Morsi must “do more to be truly responsive” to concerns of Egyptian people” after huge rallies over the weekend, she said.
The military move also presents Obama with a dilemma over continuing U.S. aid to Egypt. Underlying the importance for Washington of keeping ties to Egypt’s military, Secretary of State John Kerry in May quietly approved $1.3 billion in military assistance, although Egypt did not meet democracy standards set by the Congress for it to receive aid.
U.S. law requires most aid to be cut off “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree.”
But the law gives the State Department discretion to decide whether a coup has taken place, according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides.