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With Egypt crumbling, Obama must take more direct role, critics say

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Egypt, President Obama is watching leniently as the supposed pro-democratic reforms of the "Arab spring" have turned into a bloody and chaotic Arab winter.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has declared a state of emergency and a curfew across three major cities after violence left about 50 dead and hundreds injured nationwide in recent days. The country's army chief warned Tuesday that Egypt could collapse if the protests and the political unrest continues.

Yet Mr. Obama has resisted calls by Republicans in Congress to delay military aid to Egypt as leverage for democratic reforms. And during an appearance on "60 Minutes" Sunday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama boasted about his policy results there.

"You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there," Mr. Obama said.

The strife in Egypt coincides with the two-year anniversary of the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose ouster Mr. Obama actively supported behind the scenes. Egyptians are expressing growing frustration with the new government allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, including complaints that security forces are still committing abuses and haven't been punished for past crimes.

Allegations of government corruption are still prevalent, and Mr. Morsi has come under fire for failing to control violent protests against a court verdict involving deaths at a soccer match.

Mr. Morsi is playing the Obama administration, accepting U.S. aid while ignoring calls to improve its human-rights situation, said James Phillips, a senior fellow on Middle Eastern affairs at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

"He's moved in a non-democratic manner whenever he gets the chance, but the administration still gives him the benefit of the doubt," Mr. Phillips said. "The administration should not go out of its way to help Morsi."

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is "closely monitoring" developments in Egypt.

"We call on all Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to make clear that violence and looting is not acceptable and to actively work to prevent further violence," Mr. Carney told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. "Egyptians need to engage in a peaceful process in order to reach a lasting solution to the current unrest. This democratic process must adhere to the rights of all Egyptians. And we look to the government of Egypt to ensure that the people's right to due process is protected."

Lawrence Korb, a national security analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress and a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, said Mr. Obama has no choice at the moment but to try to work with Mr. Morsi.

"Once they got rid of Mubarak and had an election, he was the person, for better or worse," Mr. Korb said. "We have followed the right path. He [Mr. Morsi] was legitimately elected. We have continued aid, but we've said, 'If you abuse your population in any way, we'll cut it off.' "

Mr. Korb pointed to Mr. Morsi's role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel last year as evidence that Mr. Obama's approach is the correct one.

Some Republican lawmakers have urged Mr. Obama to suspend military aid, starting with an episode last spring in which the Egyptian government brought charges against foreign aid workers there, including six Americans, one of them the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Those calls intensified after Egyptians attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo last September, while terrorists were attacking a U.S. compound in Libya and killing four Americans.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the administration this month to delay the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Mr. Morsi's government "until Egypt can establish a democratic parliament and ensure stability and peace for its people and the region."

"President Morsi has failed to promote promised democracy in his country and neglected to continue Egypt's legacy of maintaining peace in the region," Mr. Inhofe said.

Mr. Phillips said the Obama administration's policy in Egypt is "potentially disastrous" because it rests on the Muslim Brotherhood behaving "like a genuinely democratic political party."

"Instead of bending over backwards to prop [Mr. Morsi] up, I think the administration should be telling him in no uncertain terms that he needs to be more forthcoming in not only protecting Americans at the U.S. Embassy, but also respecting the human rights of his own people and respecting the peace treaty with Israel," Mr. Phillips said. "The U.S. should be tying any aid with much tighter strings, particularly military aid."

He also said the developments in Egypt are linked to the expansion of Islamist extremism in the Saharan sub-Saharan region of Africa.

"I think it is part of a broader trend. The overthrow of authoritarian governments does not automatically lead to the development of democracy," Mr. Phillips said. "The so-called Arab Spring has been more of a boon to al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists than it has been to genuine democrats. Democracy is much more than elections. It requires a civil society and the respect for the rule of law. Those are sadly lacking in many of the countries affected by the Arab Spring."

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