President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security...

President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team to discuss the situation in Egypt in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. (July 3, 2013) Credit: AP

The aggressive six-month timetable for a return to civilian rule laid out is a hopeful sign that Egypt's interim military government remains committed to some semblance of democracy.

Soldiers and police fired on demonstrators Monday, killing at least 51 supporters of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, one week after he was deposed by the military, so some reason for optimism in Washington and Egypt, that democracy can survive was desperately needed. If candor guided diplomacy, President Barack Obama would call Morsi's ouster what it was -- a coup d'état -- and suspend all financial aid to Egypt until a new president is elected. That's what U.S. law unambiguously requires when a nation's military removes a duly elected head of state.

But by necessity, Obama's messages must be compromised. He should avoid officially calling the coup a coup, and continue to provide the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt. Just about $1 billion has already gone to Egypt this year. Providing the balance, but with a threat to withhold all aid next year if the military reneges on its promises, is the best leverage the United States has to influence Egypt at this critical point in its history. Obama must use the time and clout the convenient fiction buys to lean hard on the Egyptian military to stick to its timetable. The military did not meet all of its key dates for political transition after Egypt's longtime autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted in February 2011.

Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has already rejected the new timetable and the military's appointment of economist Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister, and denounced the interim government as illegitimate. It is, because Morsi, who won the last election, was forced from office. So while bridging that rift is essential, it will be difficult. Revising the suspended constitution to share power more equitably and electing a new parliament and president, all within six months, are the best chances Egypt has for a new start down its uncertain road to democracy.

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