By David D. Kirkpatrick, Helene Cooper and Mark Landler (New York Times)
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.
The rising breach between the United States and Egypt comes at a critical time for the longtime allies. For the Obama administration, it is a test of whether it has succeeded in efforts to shore up influence after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and to find common ground with the new Islamist leaders of a country that is a linchpin of American policy in the Middle East.
For Egypt’s new president, the dilemma quickly became an early test of the Brotherhood’s ability to balance domestic political pressures, international commitments and its conservative religious mandate now that it is also effectively governing in a new democracy.
“We are taking the heat from both sides,” Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, acknowledged Thursday as the group responded belatedly with a televised presidential address, a letter to the editor in The New York Times by its top strategist, and a series of sympathetic online messages aimed at mollifying American officials.