Ouster of Egyptian Leader Draws Divided Response

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LONDON -- As Egyptians contemplated a new and uncertain political landscape after the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi as president, the country's partners, neighbors and supporters seemed divided in their response on Thursday, largely reflecting their own perceptions of the threats they face at home from either militant Islam or their armed forces.

In Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, facing a bloody insurgency that has drawn in radical Muslim fighters opposed to him, praised the Egyptian protesters and said in an interview with a state-run newspaper that the overthrow of Mr. Morsi meant the end of "political Islam."

The United Arab Emirates, too, expressed "satisfaction" at Mr. Morsi's downfall.

For Western nations, the response to some to the rapid-fire events in Cairo seemed to touch a vein of realpolitik, pitting concern about military takeovers in principle against a little-disguised unease at the ascendancy of political Islam under Mr. Morsi.

As the British foreign secretary, William Hague, put it in London: "We will always be clear that we don't support military intervention, but we will work with people in authority in Egypt. That is the practical reality of foreign policy."

"It is the problem with a military intervention, of course, that it is a precedent for the future. If this can happen to one elected president, it can happen to another," Mr. Hague said.

"That's why it is so important to entrench democratic institutions and for political leaders -- for all their sakes and the sake of their country -- to work on this together to find the compromises they haven't been able to make in Egypt over the last year."

Britain, like the United States, has revised its advice to its nationals traveling to Egypt, but has not gone as far as Washington, where the State Department has warned American citizens to "defer travel to Egypt and U.S. citizens living in Egypt to depart at this time because of the continuing political and social unrest."

Britain has urged its nationals to avoid nonessential travel to Egypt's main cities, with the exception of Red Sea vacation resorts.

In the Middle East, the military ouster evoked deep sensitivities, largely rooted in the region's perennial political conflict between secularism and Islam, and in an ambivalent view of military power as both a stabilizing force and a usurper of democracy.

In Turkey, which has a long history of military intervention in political life and whose government is Islamist-led, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday that the generals' action in Cairo was a "military coup" and "unacceptable."

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, by contrast, sent official congratulations to Adli Mansour, Egypt's interim president, on what he called "this transitional phase of its history," according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.

"We ask God to help you to take this difficult responsibility at this critical period, to achieve the hopes of the Egyptian people in freedom, dignity and stability," said Mr. Abbas, who praised the role of Egypt's army in preserving Egyptian security.

Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were strong backers of Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip and is the main rival to Mr. Abbas's Fatah Party. The change of stewardship in Egypt could thus strengthen Mr. Abbas's hand in the continuing efforts to reconcile the deep rift between Hamas and Fatah.

One Hamas leader, Ahmad Yousef, said the movement did "not fear the fall" of Mr. Morsi but was concerned only "about stability regardless of who is in charge."

"We fear the dramatic changes that could cause things to go out of hand and lead to bloodshed," Mr. Yousef was quoted as saying by Ma'an, a Palestinian news site. "Egypt is a lifeline to us; it's a major factor in the stability of the internal Palestinian situation -- it is our backbone."

Israel, which has a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt that President Morsi had promised to uphold, did not issue any public statements or brief reporters. Israeli analysts were watching warily, having seen the rise of the Islamists next door as troublesome but viewing the likely instability of the coming months as potentially more problematic, particularly with regard to potential terrorism in the Sinai Desert.

"Ultimately, we know that in our region, whether in Egypt or elsewhere, that when there is violence, somehow it also reaches us," Avi Dichter, a former director of Israel's internal security service and home-front minister, warned in a radio interview.

"There is a lot of frustration there, and frustration usually leads to violence," Mr. Dichter said.

"I would suggest we not be impressed by the colorful airplane smoke over Cairo today," he said, referring to smoke from Egyptian warplanes in a fly-past in Cairo on Thursday. "Ultimately, the message is not the smoke, the message is the planes."

Ehud Yaari, an Arab affairs analyst for Israeli television and a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said "the new situation is not optimal" but better for Israel "than what was."

"Better that there be secular people at the top of the new regime in Cairo who are under the strong influence of the armed forces, rather than certified religious zealots," Mr. Yaari wrote in a column published online. "Better a regime that focuses on internal problems of the land of the Nile rather than people with a Pan-Islamic vision."

For its part, Iran, which had feted an "Islamic Awakening" in Egypt, offered a cautious response to Mr. Morsi's political demise.

While Mr. Morsi visited Tehran early in his brief presidency, the two countries -- largely Sunni Muslim Egypt and mainly Shiite Iran -- had been divided over the civil war in Syria, Iran's main Arab ally.

"Certainly the resistant nation of Egypt will protect its independence and greatness from foreign and enemy opportunism during the difficult conditions that follow," the Fars new agency quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying, according to Reuters. Only days earlier, Iran had been urging the Egyptian military to respect the outcome of election that brought Mr. Morsi to power.

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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