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Western Leaders In Bind Over Morsi Ouster

July 04, 2013

by Claire Bigg

Western states are treading carefully after Egypt's army ousted its popularly elected Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi.

They have generally stopped short of either backing or condemning the move, which was accompanied by a suspension of the constitution and a pledge of early elections.

A handful of Arab states have welcomed the Islamist leader's removal and congratulated Adli Mansour, the head of the country's constitutional court, on his appointment as Egypt's interim leader.

By contrast, Morsi's ouster was strongly denounced by Turkey's Islamist-rooted government and by Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad is fighting to crush a two-year-old uprising.

Western leaders, however, are treading more carefully.

So far, they have stopped short of calling Morsi's removal a "coup," which could trigger sanctions.

Analysts say many governments are wary of standing up for a ruler who had quickly become deeply unpopular in Egypt.

Twelve Long Months

Many powers have an interest in the stability of Egypt, which straddles the Suez Canal and has traditionally played a central role in Middle East politics.

Maha Azzam, a Middle East expert at the London-based Chatham House think thank, says the West is also wary of Islamist rule in the Middle East.

"The military is the strongest power broker in the country," Azzam tells RFE/RL. "It can manage this transition to new elections that will establish, this time, a non-Islamic leader -- either because of a degree of rigging, or the fact that there won't be any candidates with an Islamist credential running because many members of these groups will be locked up, or maybe because the choice of the people will be such. The West would rather see a non-Islamist president at the head of Egypt."

Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president on 30 June 2012, when he won an election following the 2011 Arab Spring revolt that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.

His year in office, however, was marred by political instability and worsening economic conditions, prompting mass protests last week that set the stage for his removal.

Western leaders have emphasized that the Egyptian army's intervention was backed by millions of Egyptians aspiring for more democracy and prosperity.

'The People'

U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the protesters' "legitimate grievances" and said "the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people."

He nonetheless expressed concern at the military's decision, noting that Morsi had won his office in a legitimate election, and said his administration was reviewing foreign aid to the country.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Egypt was living a "historic hour" and voiced hope that the nation "will continue on the road of democracy."

British Prime Minister David Cameron, too, shied away from condemning Morsi's overthrow outright.

"We never support in countries the intervention by the military," Cameron said. "But what now needs to happen, what we need to happen now in Egypt is for democracy to flourish and for genuine democratic transition to take place and all parties need to be involved in that and that's what Britain and our allies will be saying very clearly to the Egyptians."

The Western leaders' statements are drawing criticism from observers who stress that Morsi was democratically elected and say his ouster amounts to a military coup.

'Serious Blow' To Arab Spring Legacy

Azzam says the West's failure to firmly denounce the takeover raises doubt over its commitment to the democratic process in the Middle East.

"To take this cautious position is implicitly saying, 'We support democracy, but it looked as though there were enough people against him on the streets,'" Azzam says. "But this undermines the whole concept of democracy. What has been promoted in the region with the Arab Spring, the democratization process, has suffered a very severe blow. This would not be accepted in the context of any democratic society in the West."

The Egyptian army has suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and promised new elections, although no date has been announced.

Television stations sympathetic to Morsi were taken off the air.

The army also deployed combat troops and tanks to contain crowds of Morsi supporters in Cairo.

And despite Mansour's assurances that the Muslim Brotherhood was welcome to help "build the nation," its leaders have been taken in custody.

Local media reports said arrest warrants had been issued for 300 Muslim Brotherhood members.

Morsi himself is reportedly held at an undisclosed location along with several of his closest aides.

The announcement of Morsi's ouster sparked triumphant celebrations across Egypt, with hundreds of thousands of people out in the street all night.

But many Egyptians, including Morsi opponents, are deeply worried.

"Some countries are saying that what happened yesterday is good, that a reshape of Egypt may bring improvement. I hope it does," Ola Abdallah, a foreign affairs correspondent at Egypt's independent "Al- Masry Al-Youm" newspaper, told RFE/RL. "But we have strong fears. We were under military rule for 60 years. There is no guarantee that the military will hand over power to a civilian government after this transition."


Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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