While President Obama played golf again on vacation, the White House criticized the latest crackdown in Egypt on Wednesday, saying violence between government forces and protesters will make it more difficult for the interim government to shift to a democracy.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest at a press briefing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where Mr. Obama is vacationing. “The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt and all parties of Egypt to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully.”
Mr. Earnest said the administration is still reviewing the $1.3 billion in military aid provided to Egypt and that U.S. officials are “in regular touch” with Egyptian leaders. He wouldn’t say whether Mr. Obama personally has made any phone calls this week to Cairo.
Mr. Obama was briefed on Egypt on Wednesday morning, then went out for his third round of golf since arriving on the island Sunday. He golfed this time with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, a longtime supporter, World Bank President Jim Kim and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk at the Vineyard Golf Club.
The White House’s statement on Egypt came hours after Egypt’s interim president declared a monthlong state of emergency. The government also declared a nighttime curfew in Cairo and 10 provinces.
Said Mr. Earnest, “We strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law and call on the government to respect basic human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law.”
But Mr. Earnest repeated the administration’s position that the U.S. will not label the military takeover as a “coup” because it would require the cutoff of U.S. aid.
The Associated Press, citing the Health Ministry, reported casualties at 149 killed and nearly 900 injured Wednesday after government police cleared two encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Mr. Morsi’s supporters say the number of fatalities is at least 300.
When Mr. Earnest was asked whether there was “any concern about the optics? The president is playing golf today while this is ongoing, TV footage of rows of dead bodies,” he deflected the question by saying that Mr. Obama “is being kept apprised of the developments and will be briefed as necessary.”
All of Mr. Obama’s recent predecessors — Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan — have had August vacations cut short by major breaking international events or domestic catastrophes.
The younger Mr. Bush cut short a Texas ranch holiday after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast; Mr. Clinton returned to Washington to announce cruise-missile attacks on suspected al Qaeda hideouts in Sudan and Afghanistan; the elder Mr. Bush had vacations interrupted by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and Hurricane Andrew; and Reagan flew back from California to deal with the Soviet shoot-down of a civilian Korean airliner.