Obama adjusts position to new realities in Egypt: Analysts

Tony Gamal Gabriel, Wednesday 25 Sep 2013

Analysts believe the US has prioritised its 'interests' over 'ideals' in dealing with new interim government in Cairo

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during his address to the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday Sept. 24, 2013 (Photo: AP)

For the first time since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, US President Barack Obama roundly admitted the former Egyptian president was "unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive."

In his address to the UN on Tuesday, the US president said that though Morsi had been democratically elected "the interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn."

Gamal Abdel-Gawad Soltan, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, said that there had been a real change in the United States narrative. 

"There was recognition that the new authorities are stable and that the United States could work with them," Soltan told Ahram Online.

Still, the US president had words of criticism for Egypt's interim government, saying authorities had taken some decisions that were "inconsistent with democracy" citing the imposition of the emergency law and restrictions on the press, civil society and opposition.

Obama, however, said that the US would continue to "maintain a constructive relationship" with the interim government which "promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords" and "counterterrorism," and would support Egypt in areas like education "which directly benefit the Egyptian people," but said that the delivery of some military systems would be delayed.

On 15 August, the US cancelled a series of joint military exercises with Egypt. A month earlier, Washington had halted deliveries of four F-16 fighter jets.

The US president specified that American support depend upon "Egypt's progress in pursuing a more democratic path."

Political analyst Said Sadek said Obama’s conciliatory statements towards the new government in Cairo were even stronger since he was addressing the United Nations.

“He is speaking in an international forum, addressing head of states and international media. He is basically addressing the whole world,” Sadek said.

Sadek also considered Obama’s statements to be a “fatal blow” for the Muslim Brotherhood, days after an Egyptian court banned the organisation. 

“Now the Brotherhood has been defeated both on an internal and an external level,” he said.

However, Soltan said that Obama had made it clear that his country’s interests were to be prioritised over the respect for human rights.

“Obama said that if he had to choose between the respect for human rights and democracy on one hand, and US interests on the other, the latter has priority.”

During his speech, Obama said that his country “will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.”

“Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Obama warned.

On Wednesday, most of Egypt’s newspaper chose to underline the change in the United States’ position.

Dailies Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Ahram both quoted Obama in their headlines as saying that “Morsi had failed in ruling Egypt.” Al-Watan, another daily, went further, claiming the American president “has retreated.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy described bilateral relations between Egypt and the US as "as engaged as ever" in an interview with CNN on Wednesday after Obama's speech.

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