White House continues to downplay Egyptian coup

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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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.

The administration’s response differs sharply from its previous handling of Egypt. In 2011 and 2012, Obama and Clinton repeatedly intervened in Egyptian politics, for example, by telling Gen. Hosni Mubarak to resign, urging the military to quit politics, and suggesting an end to U.S. foreign aid to the country.

Obama’s reluctance to get involved in Egypt also appears at odds with his high-profile push to promote modernity and democracy in the Arab world.

That push began when Obama announced his “New Beginning” policy with the Muslim region during a 2009 speech in Cairo.

That policy was a personal priority for Obama, who drafted it and the resulting speech in cooperation with a few aides. Officials at the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council played a peripheral role.

“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind, and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose,” Obama declared at his Cairo speech.

“Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere,” he said.

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