Hours before Egypt’s generals announced that they were appointing a temporary government to replace Mohamed Morsi, however, U.S. officials refrained from publicly calling on the military not to overthrow the Islamist president.
President Obama, in a statement issued Wednesday night after Morsi’s ouster, said that only the people of Egypt can ultimately determine the future of the country. “Nevertheless,” he said, “we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove [President Morsi] and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government.”
The president also said he has directed U.S. agencies to review the implications of the military action on U.S. aid to Egypt.
“These situations are very difficult for foreign powers, especially for the U.S.,” said Daniel Serwer, a former U.S. diplomat and a Middle East expert who teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “We must have told the army that we didn’t want to see a coup, but what was really meant was that we didn’t want to see them governing again. All indications are that the army is not going to govern, and I think that’s an outcome Washington can live with.”
Among Islamists who savored Morsi’s victory last year as a turn in fortunes sought for generations, Washington’s perceived complicity elicited wrath.
“Washington, with its lever on the Egyptian army, could stop it, unless they sent a green light for it,” said Islam Abdel-Rahman, a member of the foreign-affairs committee of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “This is a military coup that was warned about for two days against a democratically elected government.”
The latest chapter in Egypt’s tumultuous transition is certain to have far-reaching implications for the United States, analysts said. A new period of de facto military rule is all but certain to deepen religious and societal fault lines, stoke violence and plunge the country’s ailing economy into a deeper crisis.
The disenfranchisement of Islamists could lead to radicalization in Egypt and the region. U.S. officials have not forgotten that the last time the generals were in charge they made a concerted effort to vilify the United States — and a proverbial “foreign hand” — as the instigators of Egypt’s problems.