DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – President Obama said Monday that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has more work to do to create a “responsive and truly representative” government, sidestepping the question of whether Morsi should step down amid growing demands from protesters to do so.
Obama, who arrived in Tanzania on Monday, said his administration has encouraged the Morsi government to “reach out to the opposition and work through these issues in a political process.”
But Obama told reporters, “It’s not the U.S. job to determine what that process is. But what we have said is, ‘Go through processes that are legitimate and observe rule of law.’”
Obama passed up the chance to call on Morsi to step aside, as he did in 2011 when thousands of protesters on the streets of Cairo demanded the resignation of then-President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian military said Monday that it would intervene in the next two days if Morsi and the opposition do not resolve the political crisis, which is threatening the country’s stability and economy.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Cairo over the weekend and marched on the presidential palace, seeking to force out the Islamist leadership. Morsi has made it clear that he doesn't plan to step down, and thousands of Islamists have gathered in support of his 1-year-old government.
Speaking at a news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Obama urged “restraint” from both sides in Egypt. He alluded to reports of sexual assaults in connection with the demonstrations, saying, “Assaulting women does not qualify as peaceful protest.”
The top U.S. priority is safeguarding the U.S. Embassy and consulates in the country, Obama said.
When he took a position on Mubarak’s legitimacy as a leader, Obama said, it was based on the fact that Egypt had not had a democratic government for decades.
“And that’s what the people were calling for,” he said. “They went through an election process that, by all accounts, was legitimate, and Mr. Morsi was elected. And the U.S. government’s attitude has been we would deal with a democratically elected government.”
Hennessey reported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Parsons from Washington.