Egypt politics: US plays waiting game

Written by: IANS
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Washington, July 12: With the situation unclear in Egypt after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, the White House is taking a "wait and see" stance and avoiding taking sides, a US expert on the Middle East has said.

Morsi was ousted by the military last week after mass protests in Cairo against his rule.

The appointment of Hazem al-Beblawy as interim prime minister by caretaker president Adli Mansour after days of political stalemate has stirred controversy among the public.

"With the situation in Cairo still extremely fluid, Washington is playing a waiting game, hoping the situation might settle down into a process back to electoral politics that would be easier to support more visibly," Wayne White, former deputy director of the US State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua.

The White House said Wednesday after President Barack Obama's meetings with Qatari leaders that the "United States and Qatar will remain actively engaged with all sides in Egypt to promote a quick and responsible return to a sustainable, democratically elected civilian government".

The statement came on the heels of White House comments that the US administration was not aligned with any particular group in the embattled North African country.

Indeed, Washington is wary of how the wider Arab world may react to its support of one side or another, which is a factor that makes plotting a course of action difficult for the White House.

"Whatever policy the US adopts is likely to be criticised roundly. Even those supporting the (Egyptian) army and arrayed against the Muslim Brotherhood still criticise the US for having backed Morsi and remain suspicious of US intentions," said White, now a scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Washington dropped its support for longtime ally -- former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak -- amid the country's revolution and later supported Morsi after the country's elections last year.

White said the Americans are also reluctant to part company with allies such as the wealthy Arab Gulf states and Jordan who, despite the mess, are relieved at Morsi's fall.

Washington has avoided using the term "coup" and any US decision to condemn Morsi's removal, distance itself from Egypt's army or cut aid would anger many of the region's established US aligned governments, he said.

However, if the military becomes too heavy handed in dealing with protesters, that could tilt US policy against the army, White said.

The new military-led government in Egypt has continued to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Nine party officials have been charged with inciting violence against the military amid clashes that left dozens of Muslim Brotherhood protesters dead Monday.

The Obama administration also wants to avoid even more instability.

"The White House's caution is derived from fear of triggering far more violence that might destabilise Egypt more than it is even now," White said.

But despite the turmoil, US officials said they would go ahead with plans to deliver to Egypt four new F-16 fighter jets as part of Washington's regularly scheduled military aid.

Some in Congress, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, have called for a suspension of its annual $1.5 billion assistance to Egypt after Morsi's ouster.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney said it would not be in the best interests of the US to suddenly pull aid from the country.


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