President Obama said in a televised interview on Wednesday that the US does not consider Egypt’s Islamist-led government an ally or an enemy, even as Washington continues to flood the post-revolution country with billions in military and financial aid.
“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama said following masses of protesters who stormed the US Embassy in Cairo and tore up the American flag, sparked by offense over an anti-Muslim film made in the US.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi was slow to react to the issue of angry mobs outside the US Embassy, and administration officials were apparently waiting for him to condemn the protests and reaffirm his support for America and the defense of its Embassy.
Obama said the newly formed, democratically elected Egyptian government is trying “to find its way.” In other words, they haven’t yet been strong enough in their subservience to Washington, who propped up the former dictator Hosni Mubarak for decades.
If Egyptian officials show “they’re not taking responsibility,” Obama warned, then it would “be a real big problem.”
The White House cautiously stepped back from the comments on Thursday, saying “folks are reading way too much into this,” and that “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art” and that Egypt is a “close partner of the United States.”
Despite the transfer of power in Egypt and the unsettling hand it dealt to Washington’s foreign policy elite, the US has continued to send about $1.5 billion to Egypt every year, mostly in security assistance, and offering even more in debt relief, apparently as a bribe to keep “American interests” a priority.
Since the Egyptian revolution, Washington has been scrambling for leverage in Cairo, playing both sides in being supportive of both the military leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood and asking for “a managed transition” to democratic rule as long as the leadership defers to US power on central issues, like adhering to treaties with Israel and favoring American presence as opposed to Chinese or Russian.
US support for the democratic victors will turn on a dime if these demands are not respected, and this is presumably what President Obama meant when he expressed trepidation about Egypt being an American ally or not.