Obama says U.S. neutral in Egypt turmoil, urges peace

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama took a break from his weekend stay at Camp David on Saturday to deny that he backed the July 3 Egyptian coup or the deposed Islamic president, Mohammed Morsi.

Obama “reiterated that the United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group,” said the statement, which was released after he convened a conference-call with his national security team.

The statement included a call for the country’s new leadership to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose president was ousted July 3.

“We call on all Egyptians to come together in an inclusive process that allows for the participation of all groups and political parties,” said the statement.

The statement also called on the Brotherhood’s supporters, and the new government, to minimize violence during street demonstrations that have killed numerous people.

“We urge all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters, just as we urge all those demonstrating to do so peacefully,” the statement said.

The statement did not suggest a solution to the country’s turmoil, promise financial aid, or threaten sanctions.

The July 3 coup by the military deposed Morsi, whom Obama supported after his narrow 51 percent victory in a July 2012 presidential election.

Egypt’s political situation is unstable, but the U.S. has little influence in the Arab world’s most populous country.

That’s partly because it is distrusted by the army, the Brotherhood, the nationalist and leftwing parties, the small liberal factions, as well as the parties representing the 10 percent of Egypt’s population who are Christian.

Obama’s support since 2012 for Morsi’s government has been widely interpreted by Egyptians as support for Morsi’s failed economic policies and pro-Islam policies. Obama and his aides continued to support Morsi in public, despite growing evidence of Morsi’s Islamic supremacist attitudes, and hostility to the United States and democracy.

But Obama’s tepid response after the coup also spurred rumors that he supported Morsi’s removal.

The July 6 statement from Camp David sought to quash both claims.

“The United States categorically rejects the false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt’s transition should proceed,” the statement read. “We remain committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, economy opportunity, and dignity… The future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people.”

Egypt’s undeveloped farm sector cannot provide enough food to feed the population of 80 million. It lacks export industries, aside from natural gas. Its successful tourist industry crashed during the 2011 riots that removed the previous military government.

The Brotherhood is Egypt’s most organized political group, aside from the army. In 2011 and 2012 elections, it won support from half the electorate for its political pitch, which called for the subordination of the nation’s culture, politics and foreign policy to the 1,400 year-old rules of Islam.

Another quarter of the vote went to an even more fundamentalist Islamic party, dubbed the Salafis.

In office, Morsi’s priority was to establish a central role for Islam in the country’s constitution, local government, courts and economy. Despite keeping a peace deal with Israel, Morsi’s policies damaged the economy, ensuring worse shortages of food and fuel.

On July 3, the military and an alliance of Salafis, nationalists and socialists, plus some Christians and a few liberals, has moved to arrest the leaders of Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has fought back, via demonstrations and protests, in which some people have been killed.

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