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Why Obama is standing with Egypt's President Morsi

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"We believe firmly that this needs to be resolved internally as part of a transition to democracy," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said of Morsi's new decrees, which place him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts.

After dropping its allegiance to Mubarak in February 2011, the United States had hoped to create a new, more sustainable Egyptian alliance, structured on the legitimacy of a truly representative government. To get there, it had to work with a recalcitrant military leadership unsure about handing over power to popularly elected Islamists. It is now left trying to persuade Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to settle disputes with his opponents through negotiations.

But the U.S. isn't sure how hard to push, given the tangible if halting progress toward democracy Morsi has made. And it doesn't want to undercut the Egyptian leader after he challenged hardliners in his own country by committing to monitor weapon flows to Gaza and shepherd the fragile peace he secured between Hamas and Israel last week.

"Anytime you need a leader for external promises, the quid pro quo — admitted or not — is to back off on criticism of their domestic standing," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It's a foreign policy tightrope the Obama administration is going to have to learn how to walk."

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