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U.S. Wants Egypt To Have An Inclusive Political Transition


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Audie Cornish. Two crises roiling the Middle East and a cautious approach on each from the Obama administration. We'll look at the U.S. stance towards Syria and Egypt in this part of the program. The White House is taking its time on a decision about whether to call the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a military coup. If it did so, by law, the U.S. would have to suspend aid to Egypt.

Right now, officials say their main goal is to encourage the Egyptian military to quickly return to Democratic rule. Diplomatically, that's a tricky task. It means pushing for an inclusive political transition at a time when Egyptian politics are more polarized than ever. We begin with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Obama administration is going out of its way to avoid calling Morsi's ouster a coup, as secular Egyptian political figure Mohammed Anwar El Sadat offers this turn of phrase.

MOHAMMED ANWAR EL SADAT: This is a popular coup, actually. It's not a military coup. It's a popular coup. This is people choice, people's will.

KELEMEN: And in a conference call with the Wilson Center, he insisted that Egypt is moving ahead. That's one reason why the U.S. doesn't want to cut aid right now, says Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor at the University of Maryland.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: They see the aid as the only instrument of influence with the Egyptian military. It's longstanding and, to be frank, the aid to Egypt was never democracy aid. It was always strategic aid, dating back to protecting the Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty.

KELEMEN: Telhami, author of a new book called "The World Through Arab Eyes," says the Obama administration faces only bad options in Egypt. And whatever it does or says will be criticized because U.S. policy is viewed through a narrow prism.

TELHAMI: The mistrust across Egyptian society is so deep and it is related less to what the U.S. does directly in Egypt and more mistrust of American broad intentions in the region over decades, mostly having to do with oil and Israel.

KELEMEN: So the U.S. has to be cautious. It doesn't help that the Obama administration hasn't had much of strategy up to now, says Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

ERIC TRAGER: Very reactive to events, clearly not anticipating Morsi's fall and then being virtually forced to accept it once it happened.

KELEMEN: And now, Trager says it's best to lay low.

TRAGER: Our reputation is in a very weak state right now in Egypt and rocking the boat with too strong a statement one way or the other would be very damaging.

KELEMEN: President Obama has been calling regional players, including the leader of Qatar, which had bankrolled the Morsi government. He's also been talking to other Gulf leaders who were wary of the Muslim Brotherhood and were quick to step in with billions of dollars for Cairo once Morsi was toppled. Telhami says the Gulf states have competing interests.

TELHAMI: They don't see eye to eye with the U.S. in terms of what should happen in Egypt and we should keep that in mind. They have one thing that is central in common and that is that they don't want Egypt to descend into civil war and become a failed state because then everybody pays a price.

KELEMEN: To avoid such a scenario, U.S. diplomats are trying to make a case for an inclusive transition process. Trager of the Washington Institute, though, doesn't expect the Muslim Brotherhood to take part anytime soon.

TRAGER: I don't think that the United States will be able to make that argument convincingly because participating in the transition process for the Brotherhood would be tantamount to accepting the legitimacy of Morsi's ouster.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration says it has continued to reach out to the Islamists and has been raising concerns with the Egyptian military about the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The statements, though, have been muted and military aid is still flowing. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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