Late Wednesday afternoon, the silence from the White House about events in Egypt finally ended. In a statement, President Obama claimed that he is neutral on the question of who controls Egypt but wishes to uphold certain principles. The text contains anodyne proclamations about democracy and the participation of all groups in the government of Egypt that are unexceptionable. But it also clearly states that the president is “deeply concerned” about the ouster of Morsi and the suspension of the Egyptian constitution that brought him to power, calls upon the military not to arrest the deposed leader or other Muslim Brotherhood officials, and then pointedly says that he has “directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”
In other words, you don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that Obama is angrier about regime change in Cairo than he ever was about the Islamist attempt to remake Egypt in their own image.
President Obama stood by passively for a year as Morsi and the Brotherhood began to seize total power, repress critics and pave the way for a complete transformation of Egypt into an Islamist state without threatening a cutoff of U.S. aid. Now Obama has finally found the guts to use America’s leverage over the country but only to register his protest against the downfall of the Brotherhood.
This will do nothing to help Morsi and the rest of his authoritarian crew that had already topped the excesses of the Mubarak regime in only a year. The Egyptian military knows–despite the attempt of the Brotherhood to sell the West on the myth that a fascist-style movement like their brand of Islamistm is democratic in nature–that the only way to prevent it from fomenting violence is to use the same tactics it wanted to employ against Morsi’s critics.
But by doing so in this manner, the president has made it clear again to the Egyptian people that his sympathies are not with those who want a government that doesn’t wish to impose Islamism on the country or the minority that actually want democracy but with Morsi and the Brotherhood. Rather than repair the damage he has done in the last three years, the president sounds as if he is determined to double down on his mistakes.