August 15, 2013

White House 'strongly condemns' Egyptian crackdown

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's sharp criticism Wednesday of Egypt's ruling generals and their declared state of emergency reflects the rising American fear of prolonged military rule in the most populous Arab nation.

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Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a statement on the ongoing situation in Egypt before the start of a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. Kerry said the violence in Egypt is deplorable and is a serious blow to reconciliation efforts. He says it runs counter to Egyptians' aspirations for peace. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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A wounded protester lies on the ground as Egyptian security forces clear the smaller of the two sit-ins by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, near the Cairo University campus in Giza, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. Egyptian security forces, backed by armored cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear two sit-in camps by supporters of the country's ousted President Mohammed Morsi, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out at both sites. (AP Photo/Imad Abdul Rahman)

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The interim government led by Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi killed scores of demonstrators in the most violent crackdown against opposition protests since Egypt's elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed early last month.

Egyptian military leaders, who have pledged to guide the country toward new elections, also declared a month-long state of emergency, imposing curfews and other security measures that in Egypt have traditionally lasted well beyond their original expiration date.

The moves evoked the three-decade rule of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who resigned in February 2011 amid anti-government demonstrations at the more hopeful dawn of what was then known as the Arab Spring. The U.S. government lost an ally, if an autocratic one, and ever since has struggled to navigate the country's ascendant Islamist politics as well as the military's resistance to change.

"The promise of the 2011 revolution has simply never been fully realized," Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday at the State Department. "And the final outcome of that revolution is not yet decided. It will be shaped in the hours ahead, in the days ahead. It will be shaped by the decisions which all of Egypt's political leaders make now and in these days ahead."

Kerry's warning came a few hours after the White House issued a statement saying that the violent repression "runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation."

Speaking from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where President Barack Obama is vacationing, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration "strongly condemns" the violence and opposes the emergency decree, which under Mubarak lasted the length of his tenure.

"The violence that we saw overnight is a step in the wrong direction," Earnest said. "It is an indication that they're not currently following through on their promise to transition back to a democratically elected civilian government, that they're not committed to an inclusive process."

But the words the administration used, as well as the one it continued to avoid to describe Egypt's abrupt change of government — "coup" — suggested that Obama and his advisers are out of ideas for how to exert even modest influence over events on the ground.

A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that the Pentagon is re-evaluating a joint training exercise that was scheduled to take place in Egypt in September. The yearly exercise, called Bright Star, was suspended after the 2011 revolt. U.S. officials were hopeful it would resume this year.

Earnest said the administration would continue to avoid describing Morsi's ouster last month as a coup, a legal designation that would trigger a suspension of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt and the international credibility that comes with it.

As wealthy Gulf states interested in suppressing Islamist politics send billions of dollars to Egypt's military government, the relatively small amount of U.S. aid represents what officials say is the only financial and diplomatic leverage the administration can still bring to bear in Egypt.

The administration's refusal to declare the July 3 military intervention a coup has angered Egypt's opposition, while its failure to fully endorse Sissi has prompted accusations of American betrayal from the generals in charge.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi clash with security forces near the largest sit-in by supporters of Morsi in the eastern Nasr City district of Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. Egyptian police in riot gear swept in with armored vehicles and bulldozers Wednesday to clear the sit-in camps set up by supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president in Cairo, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zeid)


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