Obama urges swift return to civilian rule in Egypt

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a swift return to elected civilian rule in Egypt, saying the United States was 'deeply concerned' by the military's toppling of Mohamed Morsi and the suspension of the constitution.

Obama also ordered a review of the implications for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual US aid to Egypt in light of the army's move against Morsi, the nation's first democratically elected president.

"I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible," Obama said in a statement, just hours after Morsi's ouster.

In Obama's strongest statement to date on the mounting crisis in Egypt, he also urged the powerful army to refrain from any arbitrary arrests and to protect the rights of all Egyptians.

"The United States continues to believe firmly that the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties -secular and religious, civilian and military," he said.

Washington finds itself walking a tightrope, caught between the need to defend a democratically elected president while recognizing that Morsi failed during his year-long rule to meet the aspirations of many Egyptians who fought to oust long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts and lawmakers have for months sharply criticized the tepid US response to Morsi's failure to usher in a more inclusive government and instigate badly-needed economic reforms.

"In what has to be one of the most stunning diplomatic failures in recent memory, the United States is -- in both perception and reality -- entrenched as the partner of a repressive, Islamist regime and the enemy of the secular, pro-democracy opposition," wrote Republican senator Ted Cruz in Foreign Policy magazine on Wednesday.

During days of recent unrest, US officials struggled to articulate a strong response, saying that democracy takes time to build and that it was not taking sides in the power struggle.

Obama highlighted the administration's dilemma, saying "the voices of all those who have protested peacefully must be heard - including those who welcomed today's developments, and those who have supported President Morsi."

As emergency talks were held at the White House, the State Department ordered most of its staff to evacuate the Cairo embassy, which in the past has often been the focus of anti-US protests.

From the beginning of Morsi's rule in June 2012, Washington has sought to cajole him into meeting the huge expectations that his election would mark the dawning of a more democratic era.

In a show of support for Egypt, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton toured the emblematic Tahrir Square in March 2011 following the overthrow of Mubarak's 30-year-old regime.

She travelled back to Cairo last year to meet with Morsi just days after his election.

But she was met by booing crowds and pelted with eggs and tomatoes by Egyptians incensed that Washington was backing a known Islamist leader and allowing the promise of the revolution to slip away.

The ousting of Morsi could have wider implications for the $1.3 billion in annual US military aid to Egypt. Under US law, Washington may have to suspend that aid as well as millions more in economic assistance.

Obama said he had "directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under US law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt."

While what happened in Egypt "may technically be a coup d'etat" it should not necessarily be seen as an "interruption of Egypt's democratic development," argued Brian Dooley, from Human Rights First, saying Morsi had already taken the country "in an anti-democratic direction."

"The Morsi government has been a great disappointment to the people of Egypt, and to all who wish Egypt a successful transition to responsive, representative government," agreed Senator Patrick Leahy, the head of a budgetary committee on foreign operations, in a statement.

He urged the military to make good on a promise not to hold onto power, and warned that "US aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree."

Many Egyptians have welcomed the military's intervention and believe the army -- largely trained and equipped by the United States -- will work to preserve the country's new-found democracy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year praised the military for helping to prevent a civil war in the 2011 uprising.

"I think the military has been the best investment that America has made in years in that region," Kerry told US lawmakers in April.

"The army in Egypt has been, frankly, an incredibly responsible player in this drama. But for the army, you would have had a civil war... You would have had massive bloodshed."