State Dep’t Urges Calm in Egypt, or Else-–What?

By Patrick Goodenough | June 27, 2013 | 4:30 AM EDT

Egyptian protesters chant against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi in front of the Defense Ministry in Cairo on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

( – Ahead of demonstrations expected to be the biggest since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took office a year ago, the State Department urged restraint and said the Muslim Brotherhood leader had “a special responsibility to reach out to all political groups.” But once again, the U.S. would not comment on potential consequences if he does not.

In a televised address on Wednesday night, Morsi acknowledged he had made some mistakes but blamed Egypt’s problems largely on supporters of the former regime and accused the media of tarnishing his image and inciting violence.

He was speaking ahead of planned mass rallies on Sunday as opposition supporters, armed with a petition reportedly signed by more than 15 million citizens, demand his resignation and early elections.

The movement behind the petition, Tamarod (“Rebel”) held a press conference hours earlier to release a “roadmap” for a political transition following Morsi’s hoped-for departure. It called for an independent prime minister to head a government of technocrats for a six-month period leading to internationally-monitored presidential and parliamentary elections. Egypt’s controversial new constitution would be suspended and another one drafted, according to the proposal.

As the opposition makes its plans, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and allies are preparing to hold their own pro-Morsi mass demonstration on Friday, following a similar one a week earlier.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Kuwait, appealed for calm.

“Our hopes are that all parties, everybody, whether it’s the demonstration that takes place on Friday or the demonstration that takes place on Sunday, will all engage in peaceful, free expression of their points of view, but not engage in violence,” he said.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell echoed the message in Washington, and urged the government to be responsive to the Egyptian people’s “justified concerns.”

“President Morsi, as Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader, has a special responsibility to reach out to all political groups and try to build consensus through compromise,” he said.

Asked whether the U.S. has warned of any type of consequences should he not do so, Ventrell replied, “I’m simply not going to get into a hypothetical or engage in that.”

The administration released $250 million in aid to Egypt last March, and in May it waived human rights and democracy conditions, which had been set by Congress after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, to allow $1.3 billion in military aid to go ahead.

“Having determined it was in the U.S. national security interest, Secretary Kerry [on May 10] exercised his waiver authority requiring a certification on Egypt’s democratic transition prior to obligation of FY 2013 FMF [foreign military funding] for Egypt,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed earlier this month.

Kerry’s waiver certification came several weeks before an Egyptian court convicted 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, including 16 U.S. citizens, accused of using foreign funds to promote unrest.

Kerry criticized the NGO convictions, but in his reaction made no reference to possible consequences for U.S. funding to Cairo.

On Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa subcommittee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and subcommittee member Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to review U.S. assistance to Egypt since 2011, in the wake of the NGO court ruling.

“With the current state of affairs in Egypt, any certification that Egypt is implementing policies to guarantee the pillars of a free society would be met with skepticism,’ Connolly commented.

The Rebel movement says a number of marches and rallies are planned for Sunday, with locations in the capital including Tahrir Square and the presidential palace. Events are also expected elsewhere in the country, and Egyptian media say fears that violence could erupt are running high.

At least one person was killed and scores more injured in Mansoura, north of Cairo, on Wednesday during clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents, state television reported.

Meanwhile the religious freedom advocacy group Open Doors said Egyptian Christians are calling on those around the world to pray, and cited leader as comparing the situation to a looming chemical explosion.

“On one side, the Rebel movement of volunteers is working every hour preparing for the large demonstrations and related activities that are expected to sweep the country this Sunday,” it quoted him as saying.

“They are urging Egyptians who oppose the rule of Morsi and his regime to participate in the national protest. On the other hand, Morsi and his supporting parties of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are also working extensively to fight against the Rebel campaign by stirring up their submissive followers to attack the campaign volunteers and offices by words and deeds.”

“Christian leaders in Egypt have asked the worldwide Christian church to join with them in prayer for the country,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra.

“Pray that violent confrontations will not take place. Pray for no loss of life or injury. Please also pray that Christians may continue to shine with love and peace in uncertain, tense times.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow