Obama Urges Egypt To Quickly Elect Next Civilian Government

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The ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by the country's armed forces presents a dilemma for the Obama administration: How to respond when a democratically elected leader is ousted. The U.S. gives the Egyptian military some $1.3 billion a year.


On this Fourth of July, we've been following developments in Egypt, where the military has deposed the elected President Mohamed Morsi. President Obama says the U.S. is watching with, as he put it, deep concern. And he urged the generals to transition to an elected civilian government as quickly as possible.

NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about what role, if any, America plays in this situation. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee

MONTAGNE: How much influence does the U.S. have in Egypt?

HORSLEY: Well, it's pretty limited. That was certainly true when Mohamed Morsi became president. With his roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, he would not have been the United States government's first choice. And the U.S. would not have chosen to see Morsi removed from power the way he was yesterday. Ultimately, President Obama says it's up to the Egyptian people to decide what happens in that country.

That said, Obama has encouraged - first Morsi, and now the Egyptian armed forces - to try to be respectful of all the Egyptian people, to avoid violence and try to build a government in which the different factions feel represented. In his statement last night, Obama urged the military not to pursue arbitrary arrests of Morsi or his supporters and, as you said, to return power to an elected civilian authority just as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: Well, Morsi and many of his supporters are, in fact, detained as of this morning. But, you know, one obvious connection to the U.S. has to Egypt is the money that it sends every year - a billion-and-a-half dollars. What happens to that?

HORSLEY: Right, the president said he's directed the relevant agencies in his administration to review what the military takeover means for U.S. aid. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs an appropriation subcommittee on foreign aid, suggests there's not a whole lot to review. Leahy says the U.S. law is clear: aid must be cut off whenever a democratically-elected government is deposed through military coup. And the senator says it's time for the U.S. to reaffirm its commitment, that power should be transferred at the ballot box, not through arms.

Now, Obama's statement was less definitive. The U.S. could be reluctant to shut off money immediately to Egypt, for fear of losing what little leverage it has there.

MONTAGNE: And, Scott, what's happening with Americans who are in Egypt in the midst of this unrest?

HORSLEY: Well, the president called this a very fluid situation. The State Department has already ordered all of its nonessential diplomatic personnel out of the country. And it's also issued a warning to American visitors, saying they should put off traveling to Egypt for the time being, and suggesting that Americans who are already in the country should leave.

The advisory notes that the security situation in the major tourist centers - like Luxor and Sharm el-Sheikh - has been fairly calm, but warns of violent protests in the major cities and cautions that even a peaceful protest can quickly become violent.

MONTAGNE: NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley. Thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.

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