US to avoid calling Mursi overthrow in Egypt a 'coup'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has decided not to call the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi a coup, which would have forced it to freeze US$1.5 billion (S$1.9 billion) in mainly military aid, an official said on Friday.

"The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination," a senior administration official told AFP, in a further sign that Washington has no intention of slashing its aid to Cairo.

"We will work with the Congress to determine how best to continue assistance to Egypt in a manner that encourages Egypt's interim government to quickly and responsibly transition back to a stable, democratic, inclusive, civilian-led government that addresses the needs and respects the rights and freedoms of all its people," the official added.

President Barack Obama said after the July 3 toppling of Mr Mursi by the Egyptian military that he had ordered his administration to review the legal implications for US aid to Egypt, under a US law which forbids all but humanitarian aid to countries where legally elected leaders have been ousted by a military coup.

Annual US military aid to Egypt of some US$1.3 billion - which is topped up by further economic aid - covers some 80 per cent of the yearly costs of buying new equipment for the Egyptian military.

But earlier this week, in a veiled warning that the Egyptian military and the interim government must return the country to democracy, Washington suspended delivery of four F-16 fighters that had been expected in the coming weeks.

But the US official insisted: "We believe that the continued provision of assistance to Egypt, consistent with our law, is important to our goal of advancing a responsible transition to democratic governance and is consistent with our national security interests.

"Egypt serves as a stabilising pillar of regional peace and security and the United States has a national security interest in a stable and successful democratic transition in Egypt."

There are growing fears that Egypt - a key regional US ally - is plunging into a period of protracted instability and fresh clashes broke out on Friday between supporters and opponents of Mr Mursi in the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra.

The clashes came as an Egyptian court ordered that the ousted president should be kept in detention on charges of collaborating with Palestinian Hamas militants in attacks that killed policemen as well as escaping in a prison break duing the 2011 revolution which toppled then leader Hosni Mubarak.