A week after a military coup deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, U.S. officials said they will not halt deliveries of four fighter jets to the country:
Defense officials say senior administration leaders discussed the delivery and decided to let it continue. The fighters are part of a $1.3 billion package approved in 2010 that included 20 F-16s and some M1A1 Abrams tank kits. About half of the aid package has been dispersed, officials said.
Eight of the F-16s were delivered in January, the next four are expected to be delivered in the coming weeks and the final eight are to be sent later this year.
News of the impending weapons delivery to the Egyptian armed forces came as the administration continued to make the case that it is staying neutral in the crisis.
The White House and State Department reiterated the view Wednesday that it would not be in the United States’ national security interests to interrupt U.S. aid to Egypt, including to the armed forces, as would be required by law if Morsi’s ouster is determined to have been a coup.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is going to take its time to make any determinations about the implications of Morsi’s removal from power. . .
U.S. officials have expressed satisfaction with the military-backed interim government’s plans to restore democratically elected civilian leaders.
Islamist members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement have denounced the ouster and demanded Morsi’s release from detention and his reinstatement.
The Islamists have accused Egyptian troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Morsi for attempting to storm a military building.
Meanwhile, Morsi’s whereabouts remain unknown:
It has been one week, and nobody knows where the former president of Egypt is. Mohamed Morsi is being detained, along with at least seven of his top aides, held incommunicado. The authorities promise, “He is in a safe place.” But safe where? They refuse to say. He has not been charged with any crime.
Authorities have issued arrest warrants for hundreds of other Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, including the group’s spiritual leader, known as the “supreme guide.” He and nine other senior Islamist officials were accused Wednesday of provoking the violence that led Egyptian security forces to fatally shoot more than 50 pro-Morsi demonstrators Monday.
The warrants come as authorities continue to round up the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which saw its hold on the presidency and several top ministries end after 368 days when Morsi’s government was ousted last week in a military coup backed by millions of Egyptians who had taken to the streets.
The mass arrests and the continued detention of Morsi and his aides are exactly the type of behavior that the Obama administration has warned Egypt’s military leadership against. But the crackdown shows how little influence Washington has been able to exert here since the generals proved they remain the nation’s preeminent force.
Morsi himself was accused of selectively using the judicial system to prosecute opponents, as was his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in early 2011. Now human rights advocates say that Egypt’s new rulers may be doing the same.
Morsi’s supporters in the Brotherhood have pledged to continue protesting the military’s actions:
The group has refused to work with the interim leaders, who are trying to restore calm and pave the way for new elections early next year after the toppling of Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on other leaders of the fundamentalist Islamic group.
The military coup, which followed mass protests by millions of Egyptians demanding the president’s removal, has opened deep fissures in the country and prevented it from achieving stability more than two years after the revolution against autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The Brotherhood statement came a day after arrest warrants were issued for the group’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, and nine other Islamists accused of inciting violence after deadly clashes — the latest moves by the new military-backed government as it tries to choke off the group’s campaign to reinstate Morsi.
“We will continue our peaceful resistance to the bloody military coup against constitutional legitimacy,” the Brotherhood said. “We trust that the peaceful and popular will of the people shall triumph over force and oppression.”
In Washington, U.S. policymakers continue to debate how to respond to the crisis. One personal relationship with the Egyptian defense minister might have made condemning the coup difficult for U.S. officials:
The Egyptian defense minister who officially announced on state TV that the military had removed Morsi, a general named Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, also turns out to be friendly with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, according to a revealing story by The Wall Street Journal. They’re not old fishing buddies, exactly, but they had lunch two months ago, the foundation of a personal relationship that was, according to a senior administration official who spoke to the Journal, “basically the only viable channel of communication during the crisis.”
For the Obama administration, then, alienating El-Sissi would have left the United States without a “viable channel of communication” with one of its most important allies in the Middle East. That raises the potential costs of condemning the coup significantly, and may help explain why the United States is eager to preserve the relationship.
It’s a reminder that, for all the complexity and gravity of international relations, sometimes big issues that potentially affect millions of people can be decided in small moments. And sometimes those moments are determined as much by the sorts of regular-person relationships that you or I might deploy within our offices as they are guided by vast forces of international politics. And it makes you wonder how things might have gone had the lunch never happened.
In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has indicated he welcomed the transfer of power in Egypt, even as a civil war continues in his own country:
Assad is facing an insurgency at home and has refused to step down, calling the revolt an international conspiracy carried out by Islamic extremists and fundamentalist groups such as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood — a branch of the Egyptian group with the same name to which Morsi belongs.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and those who are like them take advantage of religion and use it as a mask,” Assad said. “They consider that when you don’t stand with them politically, then you are not standing with God.”
Assad’s comments mark the second time in a week that he has gloated publicly about Morsi’s fall. In an interview with another state-run daily last Thursday, he praised the massive protests by Egyptians against their Islamist leader and said Morsi’s overthrow meant the end of “political Islam.”
Last month Morsi enraged Syrian officials by announcing he was severing ties with Damascus and closing its embassy in the Syrian capital.
Assad’s father, the late President Hafez Assad, cracked down on a Muslim Brotherhood-led rebellion in the northern city of Hama in 1982. The Syrian forces, led by the then-president’s brother and special forces from their minority Alawite sect, razed much of the city in a three-week air and ground attack, killing between 10,000 and 20,000 people.