Morsi’s anti-Semitic comments, made in separate speeches in 2010 but which surfaced this month on Egyptian TV, also accused Obama of being a liar. They shocked U.S. officials who sprang to condemn them as counter-productive to American-supported peace efforts in the Mideast. But they surprised few people in Egypt, who have heard Brotherhood officials make similar statements for years.
Morsi initially struggled to respond to the U.S. backlash from the comments. His office issued a statement committing to uphold religious freedoms and tolerance, and condemning violence. It did little to soothe U.S. lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — who have balked at approving $1 billion in aid to Egypt that Obama promised in 2011 to help the new government settle an economic crisis that has drained the country’s central bank and devalued the local currency in the revolution’s aftermath.
‘‘How would the American people feel about cutting money to education programs here and giving money to a government that is anti-Semitic?’’ Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding to foreign governments, said.
‘‘I don’t think the administration has any right to say they are going to grant this foreign aid because I think this Congress may very well condition it,’’ Wolf said. ‘‘I think there are a lot of questions, and I don’t think it’s a given.’’
Part of the proposed $1 billion aid package depends on International Monetary Fund approval of its own $4.8 billion loan to Egypt. But that loan has stalled for months because of Egypt’s instability. And despite its misgivings about Morsi, the White House still is pushing Congress for the funding, acknowledging that Egypt’s downfall all but certainly would roil the already turbulent Mideast and North Africa.
Obama administration officials said Morsi’s promises to abide by Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and continued security cooperation with Israel over the volatile Sinai Peninsula shows his willingness to be a reasonable partner. Morsi’s work in November to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rules was ‘‘a good first step,’’ the senior Obama administration official said.
But Washington remains wary of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘‘who come from a very conservative viewpoint with issues that are very important to America,’’ said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Gillibrand was part of a delegation of U.S. lawmakers who met with Morsi in Cairo this month shortly after his 2010 statements surfaced. She stopped short of saying Morsi appeared chastened but described him as mindful of ‘‘how important America is to the viability of his presidency and the economy.’’
She said lawmakers want to see what actions he takes, ‘‘and we want to see if his words match those deeds and actions,’’ Gillibrand said.
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