The Obama administration’s ambivalence about the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has been obvious. This week, it tiptoed up to the brink of cutting off aid to the Egyptian military that had ousted President Mohammed Morsi but it stopped short of taking that drastic step. Rather than do something that would jeopardize the new government’s stability and send a message that Washington was determined to oust it, Obama and made do with a gesture that would satisfy its desire to express his indignation about the turn of events: the delay of the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. While the administration deserves some restrained applause for at least not doing something to worsen the already dangerous situation in Egypt, the latest developments show that even this slap on the wrist may have been a mistake.
With Brotherhood supporters continuing to take to the streets to demonstrate their anger as violence spread throughout the country, the conflict there has now been exposed as involving not just Egyptian factions but the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza. And that’s something that Americans looking on from afar ought to be taking into account when they think about where America’s interests lie.
Hamas had hoped to exploit the ascent of Morsi and the Brotherhood last year to expand its ties with Egypt and strengthen its strategic position. That didn’t work out quite as well as they had hoped as Morsi was not eager to further complicate his relationship with the Egyptian military by involving the country in any adventures against Israel. Nor was he eager to allow a free flow of arms into Gaza via the smuggling tunnels from Egypt. But the Brotherhood government still allowed the Sinai to devolve into a Wild West situation that was dangerous to both Israel and Egypt. Despite Morsi’s seeming ambivalence, Hamas was a major beneficiary of the fall of the Mubarak’s regime.
Since ousting Morsi, the military has made it clear that the relatively brief era during which it appeared the Islamist rulers have a friend in Cairo is over. They have shut down the tunnels and closed the border with Gaza. Just as important, the military, which has been holding Morsi under arrest since the coup earlier this month, have now charged him with conspiring with Hamas in “hostile acts” against Egypt, a reference to the belief that it was the Islamist terror group’s agents that helped spring him from prison during the last days of Mubarak’s rule while killing police officers and military personnel.
The point is, the new government in Cairo may well have come to power in a coup (though the U.S. is careful not to call it one since that would make it impossible to continue to keep aid flowing) and not be democratic. But it has saved the country from falling, perhaps irrevocably into the grip of an Islamist regime that would have transformed the nation in ways that would have created an era of oppression for liberal and secular Egyptians. Just as important, though there will be no thawing of the ice-cold peace with Israel, the new rulers have shut off Hamas from a source of aid and political influence. The coup not only has preserved peace with Israel but it will make it even harder for Hamas to destabilize the region.
Viewed from this context there is no good reason for the Obama administration to go on sulking about Morsi’s departure or exerting pressure on the Egyptian military to include the Brotherhood in a new government or free Morsi to plot new mayhem in Cairo. If Hamas knows which side it is on in the struggle over Egypt’s future, President Obama should realize there shouldn’t be any doubt about whom the U.S. should be backing.