An Update On U.S.-Egyptian Relations In Wake Of The Embassy Protests

After several days in which they seemed to be disturbingly quiescent in response to the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian Government finally seems to be getting in line:

CAIRO — Following a blunt phone call from President Obama, Egyptian leaders scrambled Thursday to try to repair the country’s alliance with Washington, tacitly acknowledging that they erred in their response to the attack on the United States Embassy by seeking to first appease anti-American domestic opinion without offering a robust condemnation of the violence.

Set off by anger at an American-made video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, the attacks on the embassy put President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in a squeeze between the need to stand with Washington against the attackers and the demands of many Egyptians to defy Washington and defend Islam, a senior Brotherhood official acknowledged.

During a late-night, 20-minute phone call, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Morsi that relations would be jeopardized if Egyptian authorities failed to protect American diplomats and stand more firmly against anti-American attacks.


By midday, searching for a middle ground, Mr. Morsi appeared on national television, telling Egyptians it was their “religious duty to protect our guests and those who come to us from outside our nation,” including their embassies, and businesses. “I know that the people attacking the embassies do not represent any of us. We all have to cooperate to express opinions while maintaining our principles, our correct peaceful ways that the whole world accepts,” he said.

Mr. Morsi offered condolences for the American ambassador killed in Libya, in a parallel protest over the same video, and he vowed to bring charges against those who had scaled the embassy walls in Cairo. At the same time, however, he was also careful to stress the legitimacy of the protesters’ grievances. “We all reject any trespassing or offense to our Prophet Muhammad,” Mr. Morsi said, adding, “We oppose anyone who offends our prophet with words, actions, expression. This is rejected by all Muslims and all Egyptians.”

Mr. Haddad, the Brotherhood spokesman, defended the Brotherhood’s attempt to modulate its messages to the Egyptian streets and the Western world.

“Speaking to the angry Muslims of Egypt, we told them we understand your anger, you are right to be angry and we share it — but let’s all express our anger in the right way and control it. And on the other side we tell the international world that we condemn these attacks and we urge restraint,” he said. Both messages were consistent, he said, and sought to preserve enough trust to resolve the tension.

Later, Morsi issued a more explicit statement:

The Egyptian nation is capable now of protecting people’s opinions and allowing them breathing room, as well as protecting diplomatic delegations and all foreigners, visitors, tourists, embassies and consulates in Egypt.”

“I see in Egypt and the Arab and Islamic world a severe anger toward the violations made by a very small number of individuals. They have insulted the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. We stand very strongly against this. We don’t agree with or approve this, and we stand against anyone who tries to raise such false slogans and create these disturbances, tension and hatred between populations.”

“Those [people] are not accepted, not by people in Egypt nor other Arab and Islamic countries, nor by their own people. I affirm that the American people reject this and I’ve called on them to declare their rejection of them, at the same time with our rejection of those bad practices that bring harm and not benefit.”

“At the same time, we don’t accept, condone, or approve at all for there to be attacks on embassies, consulates or people, or killing in any way.

I would hope so, Mr. President, because that’s your duty under international law.

No doubt, among the things discussed during that Obama-Morsi phone call was the fact that the United States is sending $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt every year and there are already voices in Congress talking about cutting that off if the government isn’t going to act to protect our diplomats and speak out against savagery such as the attacks this week. Say what you will, but it does help to have leverage in situations like this.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Quick Takes,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Following a blunt phone call from President Obama, Egyptian leaders scrambled Thursday to try to repair the country’s alliance with Washington,

    Because Obama is weak.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I would hope so, Mr. President, because that’s your duty under international law.

    No. His duty under international law is to protect our embassy and other foreign embassies from attacks by Egyptians. Not to issue general expressions of disapproval. That’s wholly inadequate.

    The calls lately for more Marines to guard our embassies are well-intentioned but misguided. We shouldn’t turn our embassies into armed fortresses and we shouldn’t need to. Guarding them from outside attack is the responsibility of the host countries and the Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia have fallen on their faces. Or revealed their inability or unwillingness to live up to their obligations.

  3. @Dave Schuler:

    I was directing that comment to the last part of Morsi’s statement regarding violence committed against embassies, actually.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Could we just pull our embassies out of these mismanaged states and say we’re not going to have them there until they get their shit together? Maybe have a regional ambassador to Northern Africa based on a boat in the Mediterrenean.

    Yes, I know I spelled that wrong.

  5. @Jeremy:

    Cutting off diplomatic relationships is an extreme move and not a wise one, IMO. For one thing, it would harm Americans who happen to be in the country and Egyptian citizens who may wish to apply for visas or asylum.

  6. KariQ says:

    Doug is unquestionably correct. Cutting off diplomatic relation with a country would almost always be a counter-productive move. It would be a slap in the face to the entire region. Taking our diplomats and going home would severely reduce our ability to achieve our goals in the region, and make a bad situation even worse.

  7. Tillman says:

    Say what you will, but it does help to have leverage in situations like this.

    It’s good to be the king hegemon.

  8. Clanton says:

    I don’t usually agree with Obama, I did concerning his statement about Egypt as an ally. We don’t have a clear enough idea of where their government stands. But until we do, every penny of foreign aid to them needs to be cut off until their leadership gets things together and decides what direction they are going to go.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @Clanton: I’d go with cautious optimism and leave the foreign aid in place until the new Egyptian government has demonstrated their intentions.

    We would rather they be an ally or ally-of-sorts that is going through growing pains, rather than a hostile government beginning to get their footing. Let’s treat them like the former — albeit, reminding them that we won’t do so forever if they don’t get their act together — rather than pushing them into being the latter.

    With mass unemployment in Egypt, cutting aid could make things worse, and give fuel to the problems.

    Also, some of the aid is required under the Camp David accords, if I remember correctly, so we cannot cut that.

  10. T-Steel says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Then what is strength? Harsh words? A stiff upper lip? A resolute jaw? Sanctions? Air strikes? Would Romney’s very visage strike fear into their hearts and minds? We could have had Chuck Norris as POTUS (and we all know Chuck never quits) and the Extremist Jubilee still would have done their thing. Haven’t we learned yet? Those extremists DO NOT CARE! So again, what is this American Strength that will stopped the Extremist Jubilee?

    We do our best to lean hard of those nations with our embassies in them to do their job! What they are supposed to do. How would we respond if the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China was attack here at home and China wanted to project their strength by sending in the troops? Yes I’m carrying that far to make a point. But you know what, our security would have been all over those attackers before they got warmed up. We do our job in protecting foreign embassies.

    And long time reader, first time commenter! 🙂

  11. Muffler says:

    Let’s play..”is there a pattern?”.. Something happens… Day one the republicans say Obama screwed up and the world is exploding. Day two the entire right wing has talking points. Day 3 Obama keeps doing what he was doing, but now right wing pundits have shows booked. Day 4 the event starts to settle down and the actions by Obama seem rational and prudent. Day 5 next topic.

  12. T-Steel says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: AND maybe I read too deeply into your comment and said too much. LOL!