AP: Mubarak casts shadow over US policy in Egypt

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 12:24 PM

For the Obama administration, there's a new wrinkle that could further complicate ties with post-coup Egypt: the possible release of the country's jailed former leader, Hosni Mubarak.

For nearly three decades, the U.S. propped up Mubarak and the Egyptian military with financial and military support. In exchange, Egypt helped protect U.S. interests in the region, including a peace treaty with Israel.

But that long and tangled relationship is now casting a shadow over the Obama administration as it grapples for a coherent Egypt policy following the ouster of Mubarak's democratically elected successor, Mohammed Morsi. The U.S. has refused to call Morsi's ouster a coup — a step that would require President Barack Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

The U.S. still has not sent $585 million of that aid, and the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that delay was not an indication that a policy decision about cutting off aid had been made.

Amid the tumult of Morsi's ouster, Egyptian judicial officials announced Monday that Mubarak could be released from jail later this week. The White House refused to take a position on the status of its former partner, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on a legal matter.

"President Mubarak is part of an ongoing Egyptian legal process right now," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And because that is a process that is internal to Egypt, it's not something that I'm in a position to comment on from here."

The U.S. has frequently taken positions on legal matters in other countries, including the jailing of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the sentencing in Russia of the band Pussy Riot and the arrest of American aid workers in Egypt last year.

Mubarak's release likely would deepen the anger among Morsi's supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement that was illegal under Mubarak.

Morsi, who was removed from power by the military last month, is also in custody. He is being held at an undisclosed location and is facing allegations that he conspired with the Palestinian militant Hamas group to escape from prison in 2011. On Monday, prosecutors also ordered his detention for 15 days in connection with allegations that he conspired to kill and torture protesters during mass demonstrations by the opposition outside his presidential palace in December 2012.

The White House has called for Morsi's release. Earnest on Monday said the detention was "politically motivated" and "not in line with the human rights standards that we expect other governments to uphold."