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Post-embassy attack, Egyptian President Morsi's silence deafening (+video)

President Mohamed Morsi, who still faces enormous skepticism as Egypt's first Islamist president, squandered an opportunity to reassure the international community that Egypt is stable.

By Correspondent / September 13, 2012

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi gestures while speaking during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. This is Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's first trip to the European Union since being elected president.

Virginia Mayo/AP

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Cairo

After an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, Libyan officials, including the interim president, rapidly and unequivocally condemned the attack, calling it “cowardly” and apologizing to the US. And after the US embassy in Yemen was attacked today, the Yemeni president promptly apologized.

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Speaking in Belgium Thursday, Egyptian President Morsi denounces violence against US diplomatic interests in the Middle East.

But in Egypt, where an angry crowd breached the US embassy walls the same night and brought down the American flag, tearing it up and replacing it with an Islamist banner, the silence from Egyptian officials was deafening in comparison.

And when President Mohamed Morsi finally spoke out against the attack, it may have been too little, too late. 

The embassy breach was an opportunity for Mr. Morsi, who still faces much skepticism abroad as Egypt’s first Islamist president, to reassure the US that he values America's friendship. His delayed, ambivalent response will likely rattle US officials and businessmen looking for signs of stability and undermine whatever trust he's managed to establish with them. 

“I think it’s shocking,” says Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation, of Morsi’s lack of response to the embassy breach. “I don't think they quite understand the damage they are doing at the moment.”

Morsi's first response didn't come until yesterday afternoon. Even then, in statements read by his spokesman and released on his official Facebook page, he did not condemn the breach of the embassy. Instead, he denounced the obscure anti-Islam film, produced by Coptic and evangelical Christians, that sparked the protests when it was publicized by Egyptian media, called for the filmmakers to be prosecuted, and said Egypt supports peaceful protests. He directed the Egyptian embassy in Washington to take “all possible legal action” against those who produced the film.

Morsi finally responded in person to the attacks today, in a recorded statement broadcast on state television in which he said he said Egyptians are free to protest, but not to assault embassies. At a press conference on a trip to Brussels this morning, he pledged to protect embassies in Egypt and promised not to permit such an attack to take place again, while again condemning the film.

Squandering US goodwill?

Just how much damage was done may have become clearer last night, when President Obama said in an interview with Telemundo that Egypt, with which the US has had a strong partnership for three decades, was not a US ally. “I don't think that we would consider them an ally. But we don't consider them an enemy,” said Obama. “…I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.” 

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