WASHINGTON – The military toppling of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi could have huge implications for the nation’s ties with the United States, which had an uneasy relationship with his Islamist-led government during its year-long rule.
Analysts and lawmakers have for months sharply criticized the tepid U.S. response to Morsi’s failure to usher in a more inclusive government to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who have taken to the streets.
Time and again in recent months, Washington has failed to articulate a strong response to controversial moves by Morsi to consolidate power and his reluctance to introduce much-needed economic reforms, saying that democracy takes time.
After days of unrest and only hours before Morsi was ousted, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday finally spoke out to criticize Morsi, saying he needed to do more to address the Egyptian people’s concerns. In a telling sign, she also refused to take issue with the military, or to say whether the army takeover would amount to a coup, repeatedly stressing that “we don’t take sides, as you know.”
In the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s ouster, American officials remained silent as emergency talks were held at the White House. The State Department, however, ordered the mandatory evacuation of its Cairo embassy.
From the beginning of Morsi’s rule in June 2012, Washington has sought to cajole him into meeting the huge expectations that his election generated for the dawning of a more democratic era. In a show of support, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton toured the emblematic Tahrir Square in March 2011 following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime. She traveled back to Cairo last year to meet with Morsi just days after his election, but was met by booing crowds of egg- and tomato-throwing Egyptians incensed that the U.S. was backing a known Islamist leader and allowing the promise of the revolution to slip away.
With things spiraling out of control, U.S. President Barack Obama in September inadvertently hinted at his administration’s frustration with the Islamist government, saying in a TV interview that “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.”
Yet the Egyptian military’s ousting of the country’s first-ever democratically elected president presents Washington with an uncomfortable dilemma and could have wider implications for the $1.3 billion in annual military aid it lavishes on Cairo. Under U.S. law, Washington may have to suspend that aid.
While what happened in Egypt should not necessarily be seen as an “interruption of Egypt’s democratic development,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. Morsi had already taken the “country in an anti-democratic direction,” he argued, adding the events should be seen as a wake-up call to the U.S.