Obama Condemns Crackdown In Egypt

President Obama is canceling joint military exercises with Egypt and condemning the violence that is taking place there. But the administration has stopped short of suspending aid to the Egyptian military. The U.S. faces a policy conundrum in Egypt, which has long played a key role in regional stability.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

In Egypt, there is chaos again in the streets. Huge crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters are protesting throughout the country in what they're calling a day of rage. In Cairo, at a dozen people have been killed in fresh violence today. The clashes are not just with security forces but between groups of civilians. Earlier, we reached NPR's Peter Kenyon out among the crowds.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: We've been seeing teargas and burning tires. And we've been hearing both gunshots and automatic weapons fire. It's impossible to say who was shooting at whom. And I have seen at least two to three dead bodies and several more wounded.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon, a short while ago in Cairo. Now, all this comes two days after Egypt's military government broke up protest camps set up by the Islamist supporters of ousted president, Mohamed Morsi. The United States condemned that action. President Obama announced yesterday the cancellation of upcoming joint military exercises with Egypt.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the administration is weary of endangering its relationship with the generals in Cairo.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama says even after the Egyptian military forced President Mohamed Morsi out of office in what he calls an intervention, there was a slight chance for reconciliation and for Egypt to get back on the path to democracy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Instead, we've seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi's associations and supporters, and now tragically, the violence that's taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.

KELEMEN: He says against this backdrop it can't be business as usual with Egypt. He's canceling joint military exercises that were due to take place next month. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, calls that an important step. But he's urging President Obama to go further and cut aid to the Egyptian military until democracy is restored.

That's been a conundrum for the U.S., says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

BRIAN KATULIS: The Egyptian military has been central to our overall regional security strategy; the cooperation with Egypt to maintain the peace treaty with Israel is very important. Cooperation on counterterrorism is essential.

KELEMEN: So he says it's always been difficult for the U.S. to, in his words, quit Egypt. The problem is the country is changing dramatically now. And in the wake of this week's violence, Katulis says the U.S. needs to re-think its whole approach.

KATULIS: We really are skating on thin ice if we continue on auto pilot with our military assistance and even our economic assistance as if nothing has changed here because this sends a message if we do this of complicity.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration has been criticized by all sides in Egypt for the way it has handled the situation. The president acknowledged that during his brief remarks before reporters on Martha's Vineyard, where's he's vacationing.

OBAMA: I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong. We've been blamed by supporters of Morsi. We've been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsi.

KELEMEN: But America, Obama says, can't determine the future of Egypt.

U.S., Arab and European diplomats did try to resolve the political standoff, and State Department officials say those proposals remain on the table. But there's little chance for diplomacy now, says Tamara Wittes, who runs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings institution.

TAMARA WITTES: It's going to be extremely difficult now to try and turn back the clock and get either the military - which is now committed to a coercive path - or the Muslim Brotherhood, which feels as though all their fears and mistrust of the military are justified, to contemplate a political compromise.

KELEMEN: If the U.S. wants to have any influence, Wittes says, it needs to first restore its credibility in Egypt. And aiding the military isn't helping.

WITTES: This is the re-emergence of a military dictatorship. So I think the United States government needs to recognize that and suspend military aid.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials will only say all aid is under review.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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