In an audio-only statement from his vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama “strongly condemned” the government violence in Egypt and offered America’s condolences for the loss of life. An estimated 525 people have been killed since the government began clearing camps where the Muslim Brotherhood had gathered to protest; thousands more have been injured.
“We do not believe force is the way to resolve political differences,” he said, noting that support for Egypt is guided both by values and interests, a subtle nod to the crucial role Egypt plays both politically as an Arab country that has found peace with Israel, and economically, with the Suez Canal’s importance in global trade.
“We deplore violence against civilians,” he said. “We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right.”
The president announced that the U.S. has canceled joint exercises with the Egyptian military scheduled for September, but made no comment about the billion-plus dollars of aid the United States offers the country per year.
“We appreciate the complexity of the situation,” the president said.
Notably, Obama referred to the military’s removal of Mohammed Morsi from office earlier this year as an “intervention,” not a coup. Morsi won the first presidential election held since Hosni Mubarack was arrested after decades of U.S.-backed rule.
Obama added that the government led by the Muslim Brotherhood had been elected, but not inclusive, and that “millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians, were calling for a change in course.” Since the military began its crackdown on the deposed group, it has reportedly set several state buildings on fire.
The president addressed conspiracy theories advanced by both sides of the fray in Egypt.
“We’ve been blamed by supporters of Morsi; we’ve been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsi,” he said. “That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve. We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That’s our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.”
He concluded by noting the sometimes rocky path to democracy that many nations — including the United States — have taken.
“From Asia to the Americas, we know that democratic transitions are measured not in months or even years, but sometimes in generations,” he said.