CAIRO – The Obama administration called Friday for Egypt’s ousted Islamist president to be released from military detention, as his supporters vowed to continue a massive sit-in until he is returned to power.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi, and other leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood were subject to “politically motivated arrests” since a coup nine days ago.
The comments marked the first time the U.S. has publicly called for Morsi’s release, but they also reflected the difficult balance the Obama administration is trying to strike. Egypt is growing ever more divided between supporters of Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, and liberals who accuse him of running an abusive Islamist theocracy.
U.S. officials are working with Egypt’s interim government, which cheered Thursday when Psaki said Morsi’s yearlong administration “wasn’t a democratic rule.” Muslim Brotherhood supporters accused the White House of abandoning democratic principles and siding with the military, which receives $1.3 billion annually in U.S. aid and is one of the few pillars of Egyptian society over which the United States maintains some influence.
Morsi is being held incommunicado, reportedly at the Republican Guard headquarters in eastern Cairo, but military officials say he is being treated well. His face now adorns T-shirts, placards and banners festooned across a half-mile-wide protest camp outside the nearby Rabaa al Adawiya mosque.
“We know our numbers and we know our strength. Even more of us are coming,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a supporter of the ex-president who traveled three hours from the northern city of Alexandria to join a growing throng of pro-Morsi demonstrators that on Friday afternoon seemed easily to surpass 100,000 people.
“No one is going to leave until democracy is restored and President Morsi is restored.”
The sit-in has taken on an air of permanence, with protesters pledging to guard their ground peaceably after a deadly clash with soldiers Monday at the Republican Guard facility that left more than 50 civilians dead.