Obama calls Egypt’s Morsi to complain about riots, not human rights

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama called Egypt’s Islamist president Dec. 6 to complain about televised riots in Cairo that showcase the collapse of Obama’s much-touted 2009 “New Beginning” outreach to Islamist progressive groups.

The president called “to express his deep concern about the deaths and injuries of protesters in Egypt … [and he] emphasized that all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable,” according to a White House statement.

At least six people have been killed in the riots, which reports say have also injured hundreds more. (RELATED: Morsi flees presidential palace as crowds rage)

The call was made shortly after President Mohammed Morsi went on Egyptian TV to denounce the protesters as agents of unnamed foreigners and Egypt’s deposed autocrats. He vowed to push ahead with a Dec. 15 vote that is expected to ratify a draft constitution based on Islamic political priorities.

“Afterwards, there should be no obstacle, and everyone must follow its will,” Morsi told the nation, according to press reports.

The White House’s Dec. 6 statement said nothing about any use of U.S. sanctions to preserve democracy or civil rights in the country of 72 million, even though Morsi is pushing to create a Islamist theocracy.

“The Obama administration can and should be doing a lot more in public to make clear the red lines in America’s policy towards Egypt,” said Robert Zarate, the policy director at the D.C.-based Foreign Policy Initiative.

“We should be using that aid as a lever, because what we want to see is an Egyptian constitution and an Egyptian government that respects impartial rule of law, that protects the rights of religious minorities and of women … and the competitive spirit of politics,” he told The Daily Caller.

Obama’s call came one day after he met with Morsi’s chief aide, Essam Al-Haddad, in the White House.

The White House statement portrayed Obama as neutral in the struggle between Egypt’s Islamist government and the pro-democracy protesters.

Obama “welcomed President Morsi’s call for a dialogue with the opposition but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without preconditions …  [and] also urged opposition leaders to join in this dialogue without preconditions,” the statement said.

That’s a contrast from September, when Obama called Morsi to complain that Cairo police had not protected the U.S. Embassy during a Sept. 11, 2012 riot in Cairo.

The riot was conducted by jihadi groups seeking the release of their leader, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is now jailed in the United States for urging jihadi attacks in New York. Morsi did not make any public comment about the televised riot — in which crowds burned the U.S. flag — for 24 hours.

Obama’s September call, dubbed by White House officials “the woodshed call,” was followed by news reports saying White House officials have decided to delay or reduce much-needed U.S. aid for the country’s weakening economy.

The Dec. 6 statement, political turmoil and riots come three and half years after Obama used a Cairo speech to launch his “New Beginning” outreach to Muslims and Islamist political parties.

“I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country, you, more than anyone, have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world. … The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth,” he declared.

The Islamist parties were suppressed by Egypt’s secular autocracy, which Obama pressured to quit in 2011. His 2009 speech was widely praised, but apparently was based of an underestimation of the Islamists’ popularity, organizational skills and political drive.

Cairo’s pro-democracy protests are being led by left-wing youths and backed up by Christians, free-market advocates and some of the country’s few liberals.

The so-called “Facebook Generation” that was highlighted by the media in 2010 has no visible role.

The protesters are trying to stop the Islamists’ so-far successful efforts to establish an Islamic theocracy.

The Islamists, led by Morsi and the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood movement, are well organized and have much popular support. In fact, in 2011 and 2012, they won roughly 75 percent of the seats in the parliament, while non-Islamists won only 25 percent of the seats.

The Islamists are also skilled politicians, and did not let the 2010 crisis go to waste. In 2011, for example, they helped persuade Obama to pressure Egypt’s ruling army officers into delaying the drafting of a new constitution until a new parliament was elected.

They got that delay partly by promising not to seek a majority in parliament. However, they broke that promise, and also broke a later promise not to seek the presidency, which Morsi won in June 2012.

Those victories gave them a supermajority in the panel that just completed the draft constitution, which is expected to win approval in a Dec. 15 ballot.

The new constitution discards the Western-style rights for women and non-Muslims that were written into the older military-approved constitution.

It also establishes Islamic sharia law as a basic requirement, limits free speech and women’s status, and subordinates Christian churches to a Muslim-dominated panel, according to Sam Tadros, a research fellow at the D.C.-based Hudson Institute.

Tadros is an Egyptian-born classical liberal, which is similar to an American-style conservative, and is an expert on the brotherhood’s progressive movement.

Like American progressives, the Brotherhood’s university-trained experts seek to manage society. However, unlike American progressives, who rely on secular authorities, the Brotherhood’s progressives rely on Islam’s 1,300 year-old blend of religion and ideology.

Egypt has only about eight million Christians, some of whom are trying to flee the country.

The White House Dec. 6 statement included only a token mention of the Western-style rights left out of the new constitution.

Obama “reiterated the United States’ continued support for the Egyptian people and their transition to a democracy that respects the rights of all Egyptians,” the statement said.

That statement is much weaker than the one offered Dec. 5 by Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney.

“We call on all sides to allow for a peaceful process and to pursue a result that is a constitution that both reflects the will of the Egyptian people and upholds Egypt’s international human rights responsibilities and commitments, including respect for the rights of women, minorities, and Egyptians of all faiths,” he said, while reading a statement.

Obama has avoid public involvement in the turmoil since Nov. 22, when Morsi declared a mini-coup, and announced his directives could not be reviewed by the country’s judiciary.

That coup came one day after Obama had praised Morsi for helping him stop Israel’s aerial counterattack against Hamas rocket launchers in Gaza.

Hamas is a jihadi affiliate of Morsi’s movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Obama’s public silence “tells me the Obama administration, regrettably, isn’t always willing to deal publicly with the situation as it is,” said Zarate.

“They may believe they have more leverage by keeping their mouths shut about some of the Morsi government’s most egregious provocations, but that’s wrong way to go,” he said.

Follow Neil on Twitter