Obama expresses ‘deep concern’ over Egyptian military takeover

US president stops short of calling move a coup, orders US to review $1.5 billion a year in aid to army

In this Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, anti-government protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, watch a screen showing US President Barack Obama live on a TV broadcast from Washington, speaking about the situation in Egypt (photo credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, anti-government protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, watch a screen showing US President Barack Obama live on a TV broadcast from Washington, speaking about the situation in Egypt (photo credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

US President Barack Obama urged Egypt’s military Wednesday to hand back control to a democratic, civilian government without delay, but stopped short of calling the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi a coup d’etat.

In a carefully worded statement, Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s move to topple Morsi’s government and suspend Egypt’s constitution. He said he was ordering the US government to assess what the military’s actions meant for US foreign aid to Egypt — $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance.

Under US law, the government must suspend foreign aid to any nation whose elected leader is ousted in a coup.

“I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters,” Obama said.

The US wasn’t taking sides in the conflict, committing itself only to democracy and respect for the rule of law, 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. During this uncertain period, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts,” said the US president.

“Moreover, the goal of any political process should be a government that respects the rights of all people, majority and minority; that institutionalizes the checks and balances upon which democracy depends; and that places the interests of the people above party or faction. The voices of all those who have protested peacefully must be heard – including those who welcomed today’s developments, and those who have supported President Morsy. In the interim, I urge all sides to avoid violence and come together to ensure the lasting restoration of Egypt’s democracy.

“The longstanding partnership between the United States and Egypt is based on shared interests and values, and we will continue to work with the Egyptian people to ensure that Egypt’s transition to democracy succeeds,” Obama concluded.

Egyptian armed forces on Wednesday ousted Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, after just a year in power. The military installed a temporary civilian government, suspended the constitution and called for new elections.

Morsi has denounced it as a “full coup.”

In conversations with Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior Egyptian army officers pledged to put a civilian government in place quickly — if not immediately — after removing Morsi from power, the US officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about the private conversations that occurred over the past week.

The officials also said the Egyptian military pledged to take steps to ensure the safety of Americans in Egypt, including the embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Alexandria. One official said the State Department was ordering all nonessential US diplomats and the families of all American embassy personnel to leave Egypt.

The State Department earlier Wednesday said it had been disappointed with Morsi’s response to opposition protesters demanding his ouster, saying the Muslim Brotherhood leader had not presented any plans to address their legitimate concerns when he addressed the nation in a televised speech late Tuesday.

“Last night was an opportunity for him to propose new steps, which he … did not,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called for calm in Egypt, and stressed the importance of addressing the needs of all Egyptians.

“In their protests many Egyptians have voiced deep frustrations and legitimate concerns,” said Ban in a statement. “At the same time, military interference in the affairs of any state is of concern. Therefore, it will be crucial to quickly reinforce civilian rule in accordance with principles of democracy.”

“Preservation of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly remain of vital importance,” Ban added.

Meanwhile, the European Union called for Egypt to reinstate democracy in the country. “I urge all sides to rapidly return to the democratic process,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, “including the holding of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the approval of a constitution, to be done in a fully inclusive manner, so as to permit the country to resume and complete its democratic transition.”

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