While traveling in Tanzania, the final stop of his African tour, President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to urge him to be responsive to demonstrators who have poured into the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
A White House readout describing the call made a point of trying to emphasize U.S. neutrality in the domestic Egyptian conflict.
The White House statement said Obama told Morsi that “the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group.” [emphasis added]
“President Obama encouraged President Morsy to take steps to show that he is responsive to their concerns, and underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process,” the statement said.
Obama has been criticized by the Egyptian opposition and by Republican lawmakers for investing too much faith too quickly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership.
During Sunday’s protests, demonstrators held up signs cursing Obama and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson for what they view to be American partiality toward the Islamist leadership.
Among the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demonstrating, banners addressed to Obama and/or Patterson were visible. They read: “You and Your Country Go to Hell,” “Obama and Patterson Support Terrorism in Egypt,” “Kick This Bi**h Out of Egypt,” and “Wake Up America, Obama Backs Up a Fascist Regime in Egypt.”
Politico’s Josh Gerstein describes how Obama’s policy regarding the revolutionary changes in the Arab world now places the U.S. in a challenging position [emphasis added]:
As the Egyptian military issued what appeared to be an ultimatum Monday for Morsi and the opposition to sort out their differences within 48 hours, Obama found himself in a painfully familiar place — facing questions about whether the United States had, once again, invested too much in a helpful but flawed Middle Eastern leader, while paying insufficient attention to burgeoning popular discontent.
It’s the same set of questions that dogged Obama throughout the Arab Spring, when he wrestled with the dilemma of precisely when to ditch a string of besieged leaders, from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to Egypt’s previous president, Hosni Mubarak.
Obama now insists he has not played favorites. Not only did he tell Morsi that the U.S. – in the words of the White House statement – “does not support any single party or group,” he said earlier on Monday that “our commitment to Egypt has never been around any particular individual or party.”
“Our commitment has been to a process,” he added.
“The U.S. government’s attitude has been, we would deal with a democratically elected government,” Obama said.
“Democracy is not just about elections — it’s also about, how are you working with an opposition,” he said.
The White House statement also said Obama underscored his “deep concern” about violence during the demonstrations, particularly sexual assaults of women, and that Morsi should make clear all forms of violence are unacceptable.