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President Obama said tonight that he is deeply concerned by the situation in Egypt where the military has suspended the constitution and removed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office. Mr. Obama said the U.S. is monitoring what he called a very fluid situation, and he urged the military to return authority to a democratic government as quickly as possible.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about the White House reaction. And, Scott, President Obama spoke with Morsi just a couple of days ago. What Morsi is saying about the events in Egypt?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, his message to the Egyptian military tonight is similar to the message he delivered to, I guess, former President Morsi when they spoke on Monday. He said that democracy is about more than elections and that the Egyptian government needs to be representative of all the people in that country. He said that includes those who supported Morsi as well as those who were celebrating Morsi's removal in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere around the country tonight.
SIEGEL: Now, U.S. aid to Egypt is substantial. It's more than a billion dollars a year. What's likely to happen to that aid?
HORSLEY: Yes. Well, the president said he has directed the relevant departments and agencies in the U.S. government to review the implications for that aid. Earlier tonight, though, Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs an Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight in this area, said there's not a lot of leeway. Senator Leahy issued a statement saying our law is clear, U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree.
Now, historically, the United States has been reluctant to sever aid to Egypt, which obviously sits in a very strategic part of the world, for fear of losing what little leverage we might have there. And so the State Department has been more circumspect. They're still talking about, you know, does this meet the legal definition of a coup? Although I suppose you have to say about a sort of walks like a duck standard, whether that's what we've had here.
SIEGEL: Although a great many Egyptian supporters of the military's action have been insisting that this is not a coup. In any case, what other action is the Obama administration taking in response to the situation in Egypt?
HORSLEY: Well, it's really been sort of tactical. Earlier today, the State Department ordered all non-essential diplomatic personnel to leave the country, and they've also issued a warning for U.S. citizens to suspend any unnecessary travel to Egypt and also warned those who are already - those Americans who are already in the country to make their way out of Egypt if they can.
Now, they have said that despite the demonstrations in the big cities of Egypt, most of the popular tourist areas have not really been affected. But obviously, they say this is a very dicey situation in Egypt. Just last week, we had an American student who was killed while observing a demonstration in Alexandria. So the administration is certainly urging caution amidst, you know, what can be jubilant celebrations one moment and turn to violent demonstrations next.
SIEGEL: And, of course, President Obama was criticized in some quarters for the way that he handled the protests that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Some said he either should have stood by Mubarak longer, or some said he should have been quicker to urge his departure.
HORSLEY: Yeah. The White House is obviously trying to show a president who's engaged in the situation. They released a photo earlier today of the president holding a meeting in the Situation Room to monitor the situation. But monitoring is sort of what we've been doing at this point.
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you. NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.
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