- (Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing)
President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Thursday following the violent clashes in Egypt earlier this week that claimed over 600 lives, revealing that the U.S. is halting planned joint military exercises with the troubled country, but did not announce an end to the controversial $1.3 billion annual funding it sends the Egyptian government.
"The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces," Obama said.
"We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom, or that might makes right."
Clashes between Muslim Brotherhood-backed protesters and security forces on Wednesday in Cairo and other cities across Egypt left at least 638 people dead, BBC News reported.
The Brotherhood, which wants to see former president Mohamed Morsi reinstated to power, is blaming the government for the violence and for moving into their camps. Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has defended the crackdown and said officials had no choice but to act.
The chaos has also hit a number of Christian places of worship, and reports have surfaced that Islamists have targeted Egypt's minority Copt population for being on the side of anti-Morsi protesters who helped bring down the former president. Islamist mobs have burned down a number of churches and monasteries, while repeated attacks and killings targeting Christian communities have been reported over recent weeks.
In his speech, Obama pointed out several times that Egypt has been a respected partner of the United States for decades, and said that the Egyptian people "deserve better" then what has happened this past week.
"And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protesters, including on churches," the president added.
Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest added in a separate statement that the U.S. government has called on Egypt's military to show restraint and to respected universal rights of citizens, but is also calling on protesters to demonstrate peacefully.
"Violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation," Earnest said.
The U.S. government's continued financial support for Egypt, coming in at $1.3 billion a year, continues to be questioned by a number of groups, however, such as the American Center for Law and Justice. The organization started a petition while Morsi was still in charge of Egypt asking that America cuts this funding, and it has been signed by over 286,000 people to date.
"There should be few principles of public policy more clear than the simple declaration that American foreign and military aid is reserved for American allies – countries and groups that advance our national interests," ACLJ wrote in July.
"In its dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Obama Administration turned this principle on its head, not only actively funding American enemies but also waiving human rights conditions to do so. The foreign policy disaster that ensued is tough to overstate."