What Obama Said About Egypt in his UNGA Speech

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, President Barack Obama touched upon several key issues relating to the Middle East: Syria, Iran, the Israel-Palestine peace process, as well as dedicating several minutes to speaking about Egypt.

As was to be expected, Obama’s remarks were in keeping with previous US statements on Egypt in the wake of former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster on July 3. He echoed his statements on Morsi’s short-lived presidency, making passing reference to its lack of inclusiveness. The statement was also followed with a similarly criticism of the current interim government’s lack of democratic inclusiveness.

He was however uncritical of the Egyptian military and security forces, and as was expected in the context of a yet-to-be-made decision on military aid to Egypt, Obama continued to paint recent events in Egypt as a popular uprising, saying “the interim responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians.” He, however, made no reiteration of his condemnations of the violence that the country has witnessed in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in in Raba’a al-Adaweya, and similarly did not repeat his mention of the “military intervention” that had taken place.          

Obama also appeared to defend the US stance on Egypt by referencing a rising anti-American sentiment in Egypt. He said “America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and engineering the removal of power.” He added, “In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.”

He also made clear that US support for Egypt was based on mutual interests—the Camp David Accords, counter-terrorism efforts, and education promotion—adding the qualifier that US support, most likely in the context of military aid, hinged on “Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.”

In Obama’s speech, however, democracy did play second fiddle to those key mutual interests. Not mentioned in the list at all was any explicit reference to standards for human rights, despite ongoing concerns with the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi protests, dwindling media freedom, and a lack of minority rights, to name a few.

Below is the excerpt from Obama’s speech concerning Egypt, as published in the full transcript by the Washington Post.

Image: Photo: White House (2009)