White House downplays Egyptian protesters

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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On Monday, President Barack Obama’s spokesman distanced the White House from Egypt’s democracy advocates who are now protesting an emerging Islamist coup in the country of 72 million people.

“The transition to democracy will be achieved by the Egyptian people, not by the manner which we raise concerns. … It’s important to take a longer view here,” spokesman Jay Carney announced at the Nov. 26 daily press conference.

Carney refused to criticize Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who gave himself dictatorial powers in a Nov. 22 edict.

Obama has not called Morsi, but “we’ve raised concerns,” Carney told reporters at the press event.

“We support democracy, we believe in a government in Egypt ought to reflect the will of the people, and the Egyptian people have to decide what that government will look like,” Carney said.

Carney’s comments followed appeals from Egypt’s democracy advocates for support from the U.S. president.

“I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity,” Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the country’s more visible non-Islamist politicians, said Nov. 24.

Carney also, however, read out some White House talking points that could be described as support for the pro-democracy protests.

“One of the aspirations of the Egyptian revolution was to ensure that power not be overly concentrated. … Democracy depends on strong institutions and on checks and balances. … We call for calm and we encourage all parties to work together,” he read.

The surprise crisis began one day after Obama worked with Morsi on Nov. 21 to stop the Israeli counterattack against Hamas’ rocket-firing jihadis in Gaza.

“We have decided … [that presidential decisions] are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity,” said Morsi’s Nov. 22 statute, which also re-assembled the Islamist-dominated parliament that was dissolved in the summer by the judiciary.

Obama was not embarrassed by Morsi’s power grab immediately after the imposed ceasefire, Carney said. “We see those as separate issues,” he said.

But Morsi’s takeover threatens to shift Egypt’s populist, Islam-friendly democratic “Arab Spring” into a hardline Islamist theocracy, similar to Iran, that is hostile to democracy and peace with Israel.

Under Islam’s Shariah law, Western-style rights are supplanted by imams’ edicts, which give Muslim men power over Muslim women, Christians and Jews. An Islamic theocracy would also be hostile to non-Muslim states, especially to the nearby Jewish-majority state of Israel.

Until he took power in June, Morsi was a top leader in the Islamist political party established by the international Muslim Brotherhood group. The group’s affiliates include Hamas, the Gaza-based jihadi group that has launched hundreds of rockets at civilians in Israel.

Since Nov. 22, Egypt’s secular democracy advocates — free-market advocates, Christians and left-wingers — have protested the Morsi takeover, but they have received little public support or political power against Moris and his allies Islamists. Collectively, non-Islamist parties won only one-quarter of parliamentary seats in elections held in 2011 and 2012.

“The westernized pro-democracy activists play a tiny, tiny role” in Egyptian politics, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News on Nov. 26. The country’s politics are dominated by competition between Islamists and the economically-powerful military, he said.

So far, the police have followed Morsi’s orders, and the military has not publicly protested Morsi’s declaration.

The country’s judiciary has rallied against the coup, but does not have the power to reverse Morsi’s takeover.

Morsi’s power-grab came one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised him for helping force an end to Israel’s counterattack against rocket attacks launched from the Gaza enclave by Hamas.

“This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said on Nov. 21. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”

Clinton’s statement reflects the administration’s strategy towards Arab Muslim countries.

That strategy was outlined by Obama in his 2009 “new beginning” speech in Cairo. It calls for the use of elections to show Islamists that they can achieve their goals via the ballot box, rather than via jihadi attacks on American targets.

“It is the national interest of the United States and the American people that that [Egyptian democracy] process continue and that the government in Egypt reflect the will of the people, and respect the right of minorities, and give voice to Egyptians so they can help their economy grown and help their culture flourish,” Carney said.

That strategy also calls for the exclusion of Egypt’s military from civilian politics.

In July, Clinton met with Morsi, and warned Egypt’s military against intervention in civilian politics. “The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails,” she said.

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