As one Egyptian government minister after another resigned on Monday and Tuesday, President Barack Obama refused to withdraw his support for President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government, noting that they came to power in a “legitimate” election. Meanwhile, amidst massive protests, senior members of that government resigned–including, reportedly, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.
Egyptian satellite channels report the prime minister has resigned.
— AhmedMaher (@BBCAhmedMaher) July 2, 2013
President Obama called Morsi on Tuesday to express his concern about reports of violence and to urge Morsi to find a political solution to the crisis. In a statement, the White House stressed that it does not support any particular party in Egypt, but rather the democratic process. Meanwhile, Morsi himself has remained defiant, rejecting a 48-hour ultimatum issued by the Egyptian military on Monday.
The Obama administration’s careful insistence that it supports the Egyptian government but not the person or party in power is a clear attempt to walk back its earlier, and costly, opposition to the demonstrations. Last week, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said that the U.S. government discouraged the forthcoming protests, which quickly grew to become the largest political demonstration in the history of the world.
The conundrum for the Obama administration is that while Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government did come to power in a democratic election, it has since undermined the institutional pillars of Egypt’s fledgling democracy, including the judiciary and the media, in an attempt to consolidate its power. It has also embraced a “jihad” in Syria at a time when Egyptians at home face extreme economic instability and stagnation.
On Tuesday, American political commentator Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s “bystander” approach to the Egyptian protests “shocking,” noting that he had eventually called for former President Hosni Mubarak to step down during protests in 2011. Obama claimed on Monday, implausibly, that his administration had never intervened: “Our position has always been, it’s not our job to choose who Egypt’s leaders are.”
Egypt’s military, meanwhile, attempted to dispel concerns that it would seize power if Morsi did not comply with its ultimatum. “”Military coups are not part of our ideology,” it said Monday, according to the Times of Israel. “The published statement was meant to push the sides towards an agreement….We have no plan of taking power into our own hands.” As in 2011, however, the public may support military intervention.