The White House has stepped up condemnation of the interim Egyptian government as its bloody crackdown on protesters put the US under growing pressure to rethink its tacit support for the new military rulers.
In its harshest criticism yet, White House spokesman Josh Earnest accused the military of breaking its promises to respect the rights of all citizens, and said it was “on the wrong path”.
“Violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation,” he said.
“We also strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law, and call on the government to respect basic human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process under the law. The world is watching what is happening in Cairo.”
But the White House once again avoided using the word “coup” to describe the recent overthrow of president Morsi – a move which would trigger an automatic congressional ban on US aid to the Egyptian military.
Washington has suspended a recent shipment of F16 jets and said it was re-assessing whether to restart its $1.3bn of military aid, but its fears that a permanent severing of aid risks removing the only leverage it has in restraining the generals.
Nonetheless, Wednesday’s bloody crackdown is straining hopes in Washington that the interim military government represents the best prosepct of a smooth return to democracy.
The White House was even asked by reporters whether it would back the return of Morsi to power.
“We are not in a position to throw our support behind specific politicians or parties; we are trying to support a process – an inclusive process,” said Earnest, pictured.
Nato also joined the public condemnation, a possible sign that western military leaders are losing patience with the generals in Cairo.
“I am deeply concerned by the situation in Egypt, and the continuing reports of bloodshed. I deplore the loss of life,” said Nato secretary general Andres Fogh Rasmussen in a statement.
“Egypt is an important partner for Nato through the Mediterranean Dialogue. I call on all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from violence and to work to restore the political process.”
Previously, Pentagon officials have been in regular contact with the counterparts in the Egyptian military, supplementing regular dialogue with the State Department and congressional leaders such as Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
But such contact has seemingly failed to persuade the interim government to tread lightly in dealing with pro-Morsi supports, raising the prospect that the US may revisit its strategy toward Egypt.
For the moment, the White House insists it is simply continuing to evaluate its support, while stepping up its threat to sever ties if the military does not change tack.
“They have made promises. When the interim government took control of the country, they promised this was only an interim step,” Earnest said.
“That’s a promise they made and that’s a promise we’re going to encourage them to keep.”