WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is turning to top officials to tout democracy, political transparency and peaceful protest for Egypt, a message that took on a hollow tone as the Egyptian military installed a new leader for the country and began rounding up its ousted president and his supporters.
Tens of thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi marched in Cairo on Friday, and gunfire and stone-throwing marked clashes taking place after dark. Across Egypt, at least 30 people were reported killed and more than 200 wounded.
In Washington, the State Department condemned the violence and called on all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters.
“The voices of all who are protesting peacefully must be heard — including those who welcomed the events of earlier this week and those who supported President Morsi,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The Egyptian people must come together to resolve their differences peacefully, without recourse to violence or the use of force.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday called Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, for a second time in as many days. The Pentagon said Dempsey had spoken earlier with Lt. Gen. Sedki Sobhi, the chief of staff of Egypt’s military, although the Pentagon wouldn’t disclose details about any of the calls.
Behind the scenes, the U.S. was signaling to Egypt and its allies that it accepts the military’s decision to depose Morsi, and was hoping that what fills the vacuum of power would be more favorable to U.S. interests and values than Morsi’s Islamist government.
But those hopes were tempered by very real concerns that a newly emboldened military would deal violently with the Muslim Brotherhood, sending Egyptian society further into chaos and making reconciliation more difficult.
In spite of U.S. urging, Egyptian authorities arrested and detained the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, General Guide Mohammed Badie, on Thursday, although he was later released and emerged publicly Friday to speak defiantly before a cheering crowd of pro-Morsi supporters, vowing to reinstate ousted Morsi and end military rule.
Morsi, a leading member of the Brotherhood, and at least a dozen presidential aides already had been placed under house arrest.
The swearing-in of Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Egypt’s interim president illustrated the military’s desire to be seen as quickly returning the nation to civilian control.
Obama on Wednesday, while not calling Morsi’s ouster a coup, said he was ordering the government to assess what the developments portended for aid to Cairo.
The U.S. considers the $1.5 billion a year it sends Egypt to be a critical U.S. national security priority.
The administration faced difficult choices amid the ongoing crisis. If it denounced the ouster of Morsi, it could be accused of propping up a ruler who had lost public support. Yet, if it supported the military’s action, the administration could be accused of fomenting dissent or could lose credibility on its commitment to the democratic process.