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NBC Foreign Correspondent on Obama Egypt Admission: ‘I almost had to sit down when I heard that’

Update 12:45pm: The White House has issued a “clarification” of President Obama’s “not an ally” remark about Egypt. In brief, it amounts to “that’s a technical term and we don’t like technical things.” From Foreign Policy:

“I think folks are reading way too much into this,” [White House spokesman Tommy] Vietor said. “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

Vietor referred to Obama’s Wednesday phone call with Mohamed Morsy, during which Obama pressed the Egyptian president to ensure the safety and protection of U.S. personnel and facilities in Egypt. Morsy agreed to do so, according to a White House statement on the phone call.

“The President said that he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities,” the statement said. “President Morsi expressed his condolences for the tragic loss of American life in Libya and emphasized that Egypt would honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel.”

Not mentioned with regard to the Obama–Morsi phone call, in which Obama declared that he “rejects efforts to denigrate Islam”? Any presidential “rejection” of efforts to pressure the U.S. government into curtailing the God-given right to free expression. Unsurprisingly.

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To quote President Obama, the fever that has held the media since September 11 may be breaking. At least, one mainstream journalist appears able to see – and willing to acknowledge – that Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, is commander in chief, and that the situations in Egypt and elsewhere right now reflect a far worse reality than that of four years ago.

For NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Peter Richard Engel, the tipping point was a Telemundo interview that aired last night, in which Obama declared that Egypt is not an ally of the United States. As Moe Lane noted here this morning, that is a significant development from last year, when Obama specifically acknowledged Egypt as ” an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues.”

Here’s the video:

CHUCK TODD: I just want to get your first reaction, before you give me a report, of the President saying Egypt was not an ally or an enemy.

PETER RICHARD ENGEL: Yeah, I almost had to sit down when I heard that. For the last forty years, the United States has had two main allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the other ally in the Middle East being Israel. For the President to come out and say, well, he’s not exactly sure if Egypt is an ally any more but it’s not an enemy, that is a significant change in the perspective of Washington toward this country, the biggest country in the Arab world. It makes one wonder, well, was it worth it? Was it worth supporting the Arab Spring, supporting the demonstrations here in Tahrir Square, when now in Tahrir Square there are clashes going on behind me right in front of the US embassy?

You can see now teargas coming — teargas being fired into a crowd of demonstrators who are trying to get close to the embassy, which is at the end of the street, and throw rocks at the US embassy. A very different scene here, a very different Egypt before, when the United States — President Obama — was supporting the demonstrators, President Mubarak was in power, and Egypt was very much an ally. The President doesn’t seem to be sure if Egypt is an ally any more, and some demonstrators who the Arab Spring helped give a voice to are trying to attack the US embassy.

Obama and Morsi reportedly spoke today. In that conversation, Morsi said, “I affirmed to him the need for deterrent legal measures against those who want to damage relations between peoples, and particularly between the people of Egypt and the people of America.” According to the same report, “In another statement, Mursi said he expects “assurances from the U.S. government to prevent any infringement on the sacred.”

In other words, we’ll follow the U.S. Embassy in Cairo’s lead and condemn the heck out of people exercising their God-given rights, if we know what’s good for us (and if we want Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood to like us.) Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for a “million man march” Friday, a day they’re calling “Friday of Anger” – a continuation of this week’s protests in far greater (and, we should expect, more violent) numbers.

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