Obama to Morsi: I, uh, hope you guys can work this all out; Update: Warns military against coup?

Frankly, given his track record in Egypt, it’s probably best that The One sits this one out.

This call sounds like it was really useful:

President Obama called President Morsy on Monday, July 1, to convey his concerns about recent developments in Egypt. The President told President Morsy that the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group. He stressed that democracy is about more than elections; it is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government, including the many Egyptians demonstrating throughout the country. President Obama encouraged President Morsy to take steps to show that he is responsive to their concerns, and underscored that the current crisis can only be resolved through a political process. As he has said since the revolution, President Obama reiterated that only Egyptians can make the decisions that will determine their future.

He also expressed his “deep concern” about women being raped during the protests, a hallmark of Egyptian revolutionary fervor. As amusing as it is to see the “leading from behind” strategy in action, what exactly was he supposed to say to Morsi? We have no credibility left in Egypt after backing the old dictator for 30 years and the new dictator for two. If Obama calls a presser to announce that Morsi must go, it’ll look like a ridiculous farce of his “Mubarak must go” statements in 2011, especially since no one’s under any illusions that the U.S., rather than the mass protests and the Egyptian military, is the prime mover here. The chief leverage we have, as usual, is the billions in military aid we give to the Egyptian army, but we’re not even the country’s biggest bankroller at this point. That would be Qatar, which continues to throw money around the region (and weapons around in Syria) to build its own regional influence. If the Pentagon tells the Egyptian brass that we’re A-OK with a coup, or that we’re not OK, maybe that means something. Or maybe not: We’re not going to cut ties with Egypt and forfeit what little leverage we have left in preventing a new war with Israel, no matter what happens, and Egyptian military leaders know it. “Leading from behind” at this point basically means “watching and hoping for the best.”

Ed already posted the Egyptian military’s tentative plan on what to do if Morsi refuses to step down. They’re caught between two historical failures. They don’t want pure military rule, as that’s too reminiscent of Mubarak and the post-Mubarak junta, but they don’t want a straight election, as that hasn’t worked out well so far either. Maybe they’ll impose ideological quotas on parliament to boost representation for more secular elements. The military’s going to end up ruling in practice, I assume, but putting a more diverse parliament in place to protect them from populist democratic rage is inevitable. The Guardian raises an interesting possibility, though: What if Morsi bows to military pressure tomorrow and calls for new elections, and then the Islamists win again? By “Islamists” I don’t mean the Muslim Brotherhood either; I’m talking about the even more radical Salafists, who finished surprisingly strong behind the MB in the first Egyptian parliamentary elections and may inherit swaths of disgruntled MB supporters next time. Maybe that’s why Obama’s being careful not to pressure Morsi too much: An almost ironclad rule of Middle Eastern politics is that whatever comes next is worse than what preceded it. If the Brotherhood is out of favor because it can’t rescue Egypt’s wreck of an economy (no one else will be able to either), then populist sentiment favoring overtly Islamic parties may gravitate towards the Salafists. And if that’s the only option left, the Pentagon will surely end up pushing the Egyptian military to take over. This is why I think maybe they’ll go with quotas for parliament instead. Give the people “limited” democracy instead and maybe they’ll be okay with it, no matter how loudly the Islamists bleat for full and free elections.

Exit question: Are we sure Egyptians wouldn’t prefer another junta?

Update: Something a little more concrete from O. Ix-nay on the oup-cay?

In multiple conversations with Morsy and his aides, the officials said, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and other senior State Department officials have explained that the demands the Egyptian people are making on the street are similar to the ones both Washington and allies have been urging Egypt to take for weeks.

“We are trying to get President Morsy to appoint a new prime minister, a new Cabinet, and get rid of the prosecutor general,” one senior official said. “This is the kind of outreach he needs to do to demonstrate to the opposition that he is governing all Egyptians. So far he hasn’t done anything to show that.”…

Officials have also warned the Egyptian military that a military coup would trigger U.S. legislation cutting off all U.S. aid, which totals about $1.5 billion per year.

“There are specific consequences,” the senior official said. “As much as we appreciate their statement that they intend to protect the Egyptian people, they need to be careful about how they inject themselves into the situation. We are telling them that playing a role with their ultimatum to get the two sides together is completely appropriate, but anything that looks like a military takeover is walking a very thin line.”

They want early elections, which Morsi naturally opposes. The Brotherhood prefers that the public cool off before picking its next parliament. As for the coup, if I were the Egyptian brass I’d call their bluff. As noted above, the White House isn’t about to yank its one remaining source of leverage in Egypt. The reason O is anti-coup is simply because, having dumped Mubarak for the glories of Egyptian democracy two years ago, he can’t reverse field now — even if the Egyptian public would prefer a coup followed by a caretaker government to more Morsi and the MB. Withholding aid is an idle threat.

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023