White House condemns crackdown in Egypt, state of emergency

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The White House on Wednesday condemned violence in Egypt that has killed more than 100 people and said it opposed the state of emergency declared in that country. 

The escalating violence poses a challenge to the Obama administration, which refused to declare it a coup when Egypt's military toppled Mohamed Morsi, who had been democratically elected president. 

A growing number of lawmakers are raising concerns that the Egyptian military is ignoring U.S. calls for moderation as it continues to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is alligned with Morsi.

President Obama was briefed about the latest violence at Martha's Vineyard, where he is vacationing. National Security Adviser Susan Rice briefed Obama, who then headed out for a vacation round of golf.

The White House said Obama would receive subsequent briefings later on Wednesday. The U.S. embassy in Cairo announced via Twitter that it would remain shuttered after closing early on Wednesday amid the unrest.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said actions taken by Egypt's military run "directly counter to pledges" by the interim government to "respect basic rights."

"We will continue to hold the interim government accountable for the promise they have made to speed the transition to a civilian democratic government," Earnest said, calling the violence a "step in the wrong direction."

The White House spokesman wouldn't detail what form that accountability would take, but stressed that administration officials had been in contact with their counterparts in Egypt in the buildup to the crackdown and said conversations would continue in the coming days to "remind them of the promises they have made."

Earnest would not say whether the president or any other senior administration officials had called officials in Egypt in the immediate aftermath of the violence.

Labeling the military's ouster of Morsi a coup which would have automatically frozen the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to the country.

By not calling it a coup, the adminsitration believes it will preserve U.S. leverage and contracts with Americans arms-makers. 

Earnest repeated on Wednesday that the White House was not likely to make a determination about whether a coup had occurred.

"It has been determined by senior foreign policy officials in this administration to not make a determination" on the subject, Earnest said.

The violence comes days after Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) met with military leaders in Egypt and urged them to hold new elections and quickly shift to civilian rule.

McCain said on Sunday that Congress should consider cutting aid to Egypt if the military violently cracked down on the protesters.

“If they go ahead and crack down in a violent way,” McCain told Fox News, “I’m afraid the Congress of the United States would have to consider carefully the elimination of aid.”

The United Nations quickly condemned in the “strongest terms” the army's move against pro-Morsi sit-ins that has left dozens dead, as did the British government.

“The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the violence today in Cairo that occurred when Egyptian security services used force to clear Cairo of sit-ins and demonstrations,” Ban Ki-moon's spokesman said in a statement. “While the UN is still gathering precise information about today's events, it appears that hundreds of people were killed or wounded in clashes between security forces and demonstrators.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague shared similar sentiments in a statement carried by the British embassy in Washington.

“I am deeply concerned at the escalating violence and unrest in Egypt, and regret the loss of life on all sides,” Hague said. “The UK has been closely involved in intensive diplomatic efforts directed at reaching a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

“I am disappointed that compromise has not been possible. I condemn the use of force in clearing protests and call on the security forces to act with restraint. Leaders on all sides must work to reduce the risk of further violence. Only then will it be possible to take vital steps towards dialogue and reconciliation.”

— This story was first posted at 10:54 a.m. and has been updated.