The Limits of American Policy on Egypt

The USA wants President Morsi to call early elections. But there’s a catch! From CNN

“We are saying to him, ‘Figure out a way to go for new elections,'” one senior official said. “That may be the only way that this confrontation can be resolved.”


“We are trying to get President Morsy to appoint a new prime minister, a new Cabinet, and get rid of the prosecutor general,” one senior official said. “This is the kind of outreach he needs to do to demonstrate to the opposition that he is governing all Egyptians. So far he hasn’t done anything to show that.”

President Barack Obama reiterated that Morsy must take action in his phone call to the Egyptian leader on Monday, the officials said.

Although the officials said nothing in the Egyptian constitution gives Morsy the authority to call for new elections, they say it may be the only way to end the political crisis that has engulfed Egypt.

Officials have also warned the Egyptian military that a military coup would trigger U.S. legislation cutting off all U.S. aid, which totals about $1.5 billion per year.

“There are specific consequences,” the senior official said. “As much as we appreciate their statement that they intend to protect the Egyptian people, they need to be careful about how they inject themselves into the situation. We are telling them that playing a role with their ultimatum to get the two sides together is completely appropriate, but anything that looks like a military takeover is walking a very thin line.”

So the optimal policy from an American perspective–early elections–is not technically legal. And the one institution holding the country together at the moment — the military — can’t assert itself too boldly or it risks losing US support.

You might say this a rather sticky predicament for US policy.

UPDATE: via Twitter, the Century Foundation’s Michael Hanna (an expert you all should follow) says “@MarkLGoldberg There is absolutely no legal hitch here. Resignation triggers early elections.”

To which I replied:  “But White House doesn’t want to explicitly call for Morsi’s resignation, which would trigger the early elex the USA wants.”

The point is: the USA can’t very well call publicly for the elected Egyptian president to resign.  That would take the meddling a step too far. But if resignation is the only way to trigger early elections…