The White House expressed "significant and serious" concerns on Monday about Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's shock power grab last week. But press secretary Jay Carney carefully avoided offering any criticism of a leader who just one week ago seemed to be on President Barack Obama's speed dial as they worked on a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Carney repeatedly addressed the political crisis in Egypt in relatively dry and mild diplo-speak, while emphasizing that Morsi "played an important role" in crafting the cease-fire and deserved "credit" for that. There was no "we strongly condemn" and no "we denounce," and even his "significant and serious" concerns came only after reporters underlined the lukewarm nature of America's public response.
"We continue to engage with the Egyptians on this," Carney said. "And I think that the important issue here is that the Egyptian people want a government that reflects their will, and we certainly support that." Morsi's actions triggered violent protests of the sort that ultimately pushed longtime strongman (and close U.S. ally) Hosni Mubarak from power in early 2011.
Does Obama feel disappointed or betrayed, given that Morsi's actions came after weeklong telephone diplomacy? "Well, no," said Carney. "We see those as separate issues." Was the White House forewarned or was it caught by surprise? "We have raised our concerns and I think that in part answers your question," he said. "Our interest is in the process, the transition towards democracy continuing and the development of a government that reflects the will of the Egyptian people. And we're working towards that," Carney said.
Invited to weigh in on whether Morsi's actions suggested a transition to democracy or steps toward dictatorship, Carney demurred. "That transition, if anyone ever promised that it would be smooth, they were foolhardy, because that was never going to be the case," he said.
"What is important here is that the transition to democracy will be achieved by the Egyptian people, not by the manner in which we raise concerns," Carney said.