White House continues to downplay Egyptian coup

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Egypt’s foreign minister “to convey our concerns” about the recent coup in Egypt, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

The call is the administration’s strongest public response yet to the Nov. 22 coup by Egypt’s Islamist prime minister, Mohammed Morsi, which threatens to wreck President Barack Obama’s much-touted outreach to Muslim Arabs Muslims.

On Nov. 22, Morsi, who won a narrow electoral victory in June, announced that Egypt’s judiciary could neither reverse his decisions nor stop a controversial plan to write a new constitution.

The constitution is being drafted by a panel of roughly 75 Islamists who champion an Islamic theocracy, in which imams and men would rule over women and non-Muslims.

If continued, Morsi’s push could create an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in the nation of roughly 72 million people, located a short distance from Europe. It would likely be sharply hostile to the U.S., Western ideas of equality and rights, the free market and nearby Israel.

But despite the high stakes and Egypt’s vulnerability to foreign pressure, Obama has remained publicly silent about Morsi’s power grab for more than a week, and his deputies have minimized their public comments.

Carney on Tuesday continued to downplay the prospect of U.S. pressure on Morsi.

“This is an internal Egyptian process,” Carney said. “Much has changed since Mubarak was in power…. We need to step back and look at the transformation that has been occurring in Egypt.”

“This need to be resolved internally as part of a transition to democracy,” he added.

A State Department spokeswoman mirrored Carney’s description of the administration’s low-key stance on Egypt.

“We want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, [and] that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, [and] protections of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s press secretary, said on Monday.

Egypt’s non-Islamist groups, including free-market advocates, Christians, leftists and supporters of the ousted secular-strongman, Hosni Mubarak, have called for intervention.