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Obama Isn't Sure If Egypt Is An 'Ally'

In an interview with Telemundo on Wednesday, President Barack Obama's made a comment that left many Egyptians scratching their heads.

Here's the key excerpt from the transcript:

Jose Diaz Balart – Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

Pres. Obama: I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.

The thing is, Egypt is technically an ally of the United States — it became a "Major Non-NATO Ally" in 1989. It is also the second biggest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel, receiving almost $2 billion a year.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor attempted to clarify the statement to Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy today.

"I think folks are reading way too much into this," Vietor told Rogin. "‘Ally' is a legal term of art. We don't have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government."

Despite Vietor's reassurances, it's likely Egypt's response to protests outside the US Embassy in Cairo have given the US government cause for concern. An article today from Helene Cooper and Mark Landler at the New York Times lists the ways that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has appeared tepid in his response to the protests:

Mr. Morsi issued only a mild rebuke of the rioters — and on Facebook — while his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a second day of protests against the lurid anti-Muslim video that set off the riots. And though the Egyptian police coordinated with American officials, Mr. Morsi waited 24 hours before issuing his statement against the militants who stormed the embassy; Libyan authorities issued immediate, unequivocal statements of regret for the bloodshed in Benghazi.

The worry for the US government is that, unlike leaders in Libya and Yemen who immediately cracked down on protests and offered apologies to the US government, Morsi is more willing to appease the Islamist groups inside his country than his own foreign allies.



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