WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday congratulated Egypt’s president-elect, Mohammed Morsi, and urged him to reach out to all parties and segments of society as he forms a new government.
Striking a cautious but hopeful tone, a statement by White House press secretary Jay Carney called the election result a milestone in Egypt’s transition to democracy and said Washington looks forward to working with Morsi’s government “on the basis of mutual respect.”
“Millions of Egyptians voted in the election, and President-elect Morsi and the new Egyptian government have both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry,” Carney said.
In the turbulent aftermath of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, the U.S. is eager to salvage an alliance with Egypt that has been a foundation of stability in the Middle East since the late 1970s, ensuring peace between the Arab world’s most populous country and Israel.
In his first televised speech, Morsi said Sunday he carries “a message of peace” to the world and pledged to preserve Egypt’s international accords, a reference to the peace deal with Israel.
Sunday’s White House statement alluded to the Obama administration’s hope that the rise of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party will not set back Egyptian-Israeli relations. For all his faults, Mubarak was credited in Washington with resisting three decades of pressure within Egypt to break the Camp David accords with Israel or loosen its alliance with the United States.
“We believe it is essential for the Egyptian government to continue to fulfill Egypt’s role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability,” Carney said.
The administration had expressed no public preference in advance of Sunday’s announcement that the Islamist presidential candidate had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, who was the last prime minister under Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory adds a new element of uncertainty for U.S. policy in the Middle East, which has been rocked by the conflict in Syria, where some 40 people were said to have died Sunday in new clashes between rebels and government forces.
The U.S. provides about $1.3 billion annually in military aid to Egypt; the two countries regularly hold joint military exercises, and U.S. Navy ships are frequent visitors to Egyptian ports.