US President Barack Obama Tuesday warned that continued US support for Egypt depends on its progress back to a democracy, as it struggles through painful political upheavals.
Obama said the United States had “purposely avoided choosing sides” after the military’s July 3 overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, but warned “our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path.”
Washington has been watching the unfolding events in Egypt with concern, worried that the new military leadership under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi may renege on its promise to hand back to civilian rule.
And Obama lashed out at the new military interim government for decisions which he said were “inconsistent” with democracy.
“Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive,” Obama insisted at the annual UN General Assembly.
“The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.”
On Monday, a Cairo court banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and ordered all its assets seized, in an echo of the prohibition placed on the party under long-time autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak was toppled in the 2011 revolution which saw Morsi come to power as Egypt’s first ever democratically elected president.
Earlier this year, Obama put on hold some $1.3 billion in mainly military aid to Egypt as it tracks the course of the political upheavals.
“Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power,” Obama said.
“In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our over-riding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy.”
He vowed that “going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism.”
Obama also defended his administration’s somewhat vague policies towards Egypt.
It was long accused of shoring up the Morsi government despite accusations that it was seeking to introduce Islamic law and deny the rights of civil society.
But when the military ousted Morsi, Washington refused to call his overthrow “a coup.”
“Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests,” Obama said.
“But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”