WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Thursday sharpened its criticism of the Egyptian military and interim government's arrests of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, saying the continuing detentions are inconsistent with pledges of inclusivity made by authorities and may affect future U.S. assistance.
While the administration has determined it's not in U.S. national security interests to make any immediate changes to its aid program, officials said the ongoing arrests of members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and political party are troubling. The criticism is some of the administration's most severe of Egypt's new leadership since Morsi was toppled last week and came a day after arrest warrants were issued for the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader and nine other Islamists accused of inciting violence.
The White House and State Department both warned against targeting any particular group in the aftermath of Morsi's overthrow, calling it self-defeating and counter to the idea of restoring a democratically election civilian government.
"The only way this is going to work successfully for the Egyptian people is if all parties are encouraged and allowed to participate and that's why we've made clear that arbitrary arrests are not anything that we can support," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "We could not support those, because if you're arresting individuals from one group or one party, you're working against yourself if your effort is to be inclusive as you make this transition back to a civilian, democratically elected government."
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki echoed those comments and went further, saying that the arrests contradicted assurances given to U.S. officials by the Egyptian military and members of the interim government.
"The arrests we've seen, of course, over the past several days targeting specific groups are not in line with the national reconciliation that the interim government and military say they are pursuing," she said. "If politicized arrests and detentions continue, it is hard to see how Egypt will move beyond this crisis."
Psaki added that U.S policy makers would be looking closely to see if the arrests continue as they review decisions on assistance to Egypt.
"We're looking at what happened last week and how things are certainly handled moving forward," she said. "Those are all factors in our decision-making around our policy as it relates to Egypt."
The administration has thus far declined to term Morsi's ouster a coup, a designation that would require a suspension in the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to the country, including $1.3 billion in direct military support. While the review continues, officials have said assistance will not be interrupted.
Meanwhile, though, a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to halt the aid. Several senators have urged the suspension of military and other funds for Egypt because of a U.S. law prohibiting foreign assistance after coups, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is the first to propose legislation to cut it off.
"The overthrow of the Egyptian government was a coup d'etat, and the law is clear that when a coup takes place, foreign aid must stop," Paul said in a statement. He criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to label the government takeover a "coup" and for continuing to send Egypt assistance. The president, Paul said, "is forthrightly saying, 'I am ignoring the rule of law.'"
Still, the bill is unlikely to pass. Despite criticism of the military from some American lawmakers, many believe Morsi's government was taking Egypt down an increasingly undemocratic path.