US Embassy deletes critical tweet after pressure from Morsi government

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has deleted a controversial tweet about attacks on freedom of expression in Egypt after President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood complained.

The embassy's official Twitter feed on Tuesday linked to a U.S. comedy show in which comedian Jon Stewart mocked the Egyptian government's recent crackdown on its critics. The country's public prosecutor, a Morsi appointee, last week issued arrest warrants for several people including prominent satirist Bassem Youssef.

“Without Bassem and all those journalists and bloggers and brave protesters who took to Tahrir Square to voice dissent, you, President Morsi, would not have been in a position to repress them,” Stewart says in the clip of Monday's show.

The tweet sparked outrage from Egyptian officials. Morsi's office tweeted that it was “inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda,” while the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party called it “another undiplomatic and unwise move” that shows the embassy “taking sides in an ongoing investigation & disregarding Egyptian law & culture.”

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The Twitter account was briefly taken down Wednesday at the request of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, Foreign Policy reports, but the State Department urged her to put it back up to avoid the impression that the embassy was caving to criticism. The embassy's Twitter feed created a headache for the Obama administration last year when it criticized an anti-Islam movie that became entangled in the invasion of the diplomatic compound last Sept. 11, prompting presidential contender Mitt Romney to accuse the administration of siding with violent protesters instead of freedom of speech.


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the embassy has reached the conclusion that the controversial tweet should not have been posted on the embassy's site.

“We've had some glitches with the way the twitter feed has been managed,” she said during her briefing Wednesday. 

She said the embassy was reviewing its procedures, but did not indicate that the State Department would take over the feed.

“This is not the first glitch,” she said. “I think that's why the embassy is now reviewing its procedures. That said, department policy is that main State manages twitter feeds that come from main State, that the embassies and consulates - and their senior leadership – manage the content that is on their feeds. And they are expected to use good policy judgment in doing that.”


The Twitter incident comes amid heightened U.S.-Egyptian tensions as Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood show signs of wanting to consolidate power. Nuland called Youssef's arrest “evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression” on Monday, prompting the Freedom and Justice Party to denounce her “unreserved audacity” and “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt.”

Secretary of State John Kerry personally weighed in Tuesday, calling the arrests a “tipping point” for Egypt.

“We share a very real concern in the Obama Administration about the direction that Egypt is apparently moving in,” Kerry said. “It is our hope that there is still time to be able to turn the corner. But the recent arrests, the violence in the streets, the lack of inclusivity with respect to the opposition in public ways that make a difference to the people of Egypt, are all of concern today. 

“And President Obama would make it clear to everybody that the United States went there, as I said, not to support any one person and certainly not to support one party over another, but to try to help the people of Egypt to realize the dreams that they expressed in Tahrir Square and the dreams that they try and have tried to put into reality through their election and through their faith in the democratic process," he continued.

"I think there’s still time for that promise to be delivered, but in the end it is the Government of Egypt and the people of Egypt who will make that decision.”