Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Egypt relations

The End of Obama’s Brotherhood Crush

There is bad news, good news and better news coming out of Egypt today. First let’s discuss the good news.

The end of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is a blow to the cause of radical Islam. The rise of the Brotherhood and the now deposed President Mohamed Morsi was a disaster for Egypt as well as for the West. Had Morsi and his party been left in place to continue their drive to impose their Islamist vision on the world’s most populous Arab country it might have been impossible to depose them, thus locking Egypt into the same nightmare scenario of theocratic tyranny that we have seen unfold in Iran in the last generation.

The even better news is that the Egyptian Army didn’t listen to the Obama administration when it asked them not to launch what is, for all intents and purposes, a military coup that toppled a democratically elected government. The embrace of Morsi and the Brotherhood by President Obama and his foreign policy over the last year has further poisoned Egyptian public opinion against the United States as well as strengthened the confidence of Islamists that America will not oppose their efforts to transform the region. After having been intimidated by U.S. pressure aimed at ensuring that the military would not prevent Morsi’s election, the military ran the risk that this time Obama meant what he said about using the billions in aid Egypt gets from the United States to prevent them from stopping the Brotherhood’s push for power. The willingness of the Egyptian army to step in and stop the confrontation in the streets not only avoided clashes that might have produced unimaginable casualties but also kept open the possibility that a new government could emerge in Cairo without having to fight a civil war in order to survive.

However, the bad news is twofold. First, the series of events leading up to the ouster illustrates the utter bankruptcy of American foreign policy under Barack Obama. The second is that there should be no blind confidence that what will follow will make Egypt more stable or prosperous, let alone free. The United States should oppose the rise of Islamists, but none of the possible outcomes of the conflict playing out between them and the military and secular Egyptians is likely to produce a liberal democracy or a nation that is likely to be a force for peace in the region.

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There is bad news, good news and better news coming out of Egypt today. First let’s discuss the good news.

The end of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is a blow to the cause of radical Islam. The rise of the Brotherhood and the now deposed President Mohamed Morsi was a disaster for Egypt as well as for the West. Had Morsi and his party been left in place to continue their drive to impose their Islamist vision on the world’s most populous Arab country it might have been impossible to depose them, thus locking Egypt into the same nightmare scenario of theocratic tyranny that we have seen unfold in Iran in the last generation.

The even better news is that the Egyptian Army didn’t listen to the Obama administration when it asked them not to launch what is, for all intents and purposes, a military coup that toppled a democratically elected government. The embrace of Morsi and the Brotherhood by President Obama and his foreign policy over the last year has further poisoned Egyptian public opinion against the United States as well as strengthened the confidence of Islamists that America will not oppose their efforts to transform the region. After having been intimidated by U.S. pressure aimed at ensuring that the military would not prevent Morsi’s election, the military ran the risk that this time Obama meant what he said about using the billions in aid Egypt gets from the United States to prevent them from stopping the Brotherhood’s push for power. The willingness of the Egyptian army to step in and stop the confrontation in the streets not only avoided clashes that might have produced unimaginable casualties but also kept open the possibility that a new government could emerge in Cairo without having to fight a civil war in order to survive.

However, the bad news is twofold. First, the series of events leading up to the ouster illustrates the utter bankruptcy of American foreign policy under Barack Obama. The second is that there should be no blind confidence that what will follow will make Egypt more stable or prosperous, let alone free. The United States should oppose the rise of Islamists, but none of the possible outcomes of the conflict playing out between them and the military and secular Egyptians is likely to produce a liberal democracy or a nation that is likely to be a force for peace in the region.

It should be specified that events in Egypt could never be controlled from Washington. But the Obama administration bears a heavy share of the blame for a chain of decisions that first undermined an authoritarian ally in Mubarak and then paved the way for the rise of an equally authoritarian and far more hostile government led by Morsi and the Brotherhood. The identification of the United States with the Brotherhood over the last year was an unforced error on the part of Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry. The willingness of the administration to buy into the myth that regimes like that of the Brotherhood and their increasingly despotic Islamic allies in Turkey are good allies made a mockery of American values as well as hindering its ability to protect U.S. interests.

Let’s also dispense with the crocodile tears being shed for Egyptian democracy by some Brotherhood apologists today. What has happened in Egypt the past two years has, despite the hopes of many there and in the West, had little to do with democracy. The fall of the Mubarak regime and its replacement by an Islamist movement determined to consolidate power may have involved elections, but democracy requires more than a trip to the ballot box in which a highly organized movement that is actually opposed to freedom wins a vote. While the debate in the United States about the advisability of Americans advocating democracy abroad will continue, the power struggle in Cairo merely illustrates the fact that this cause cannot triumph in a country where the debate is largely conducted between Islamists and secular authoritarians. While we should encourage (as President Bush tried to do) liberal Egyptians to build democratic institutions, in the absence of any national consensus in favor of democracy (as exists in countries like the United States, Israel and the West), freedom doesn’t really have a chance.

It may be that what will happen now in Egypt will be a prolonged struggle involving the Brotherhood that will turn a country that is already a basket case into a place that is an even bigger mess. Nor is there any assurance that the new government backed by the military or the one that will be elected in new elections will be able to govern effectively. While Morsi did not abandon the peace treaty with Israel and the military has no interest in conflict with the Jewish state, there is no telling whether the chaos in the Sinai will grow or whether Hamas, the Brotherhood’s ideological godchild, will seek to heat up the border or make mischief inside Egypt.

Finally, in the last two years Egypt has been an outstanding example of how U.S. foreign aid is not always dispensed in a manner that furthers American interests. The decision of the Obama administration to threaten the military with an aid cutoff if it opposed the Brotherhood before it took power was absurd. But if President Obama doesn’t see his way to continuing the aid now that the military has ignored his advice about not toppling Morsi, then what he will be doing is to completely alienate the Egyptian people for a generation. Congress, which has rightly been skeptical about allowing billions to flow to an Islamist government, should step back now and not further hamstring Obama and Kerry’s efforts to undo the damage they have done in the last 12 months. Whether any policy reversal on the part of the U.S. that will back the military against the Brotherhood can retrieve America’s tattered reputation remains to be seen. But it is to be hoped that even at this late date, Obama will realize just how wrong he has been about the Brotherhood and start trying to repair the damage.

UPDATE:

Late Wednesday afternoon, the silence from the White House about events in Egypt finally ended. In a statement, President Obama claimed that he is neutral on the question of who controls Egypt but wishes to uphold certain principles. The text contains anodyne proclamations about democracy and the participation of all groups in the government of Egypt that are unexceptionable. But it also clearly states that the president is “deeply concerned” about the ouster of Morsi and the suspension of the Egyptian constitution that brought him to power, calls upon the military not to arrest the deposed leader or other Muslim Brotherhood officials and then pointedly says that he has “directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”

In other words, you don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that Obama is angrier about regime change in Cairo than he ever was about the Islamist attempt to remake Egypt in their own image.

President Obama stood by passively for a year as Morsi and the Brotherhood began to seize total power, repress critics and pave the way for a complete transformation of Egypt into an Islamist state without threatening a cutoff of U.S. aid. Now Obama has finally found the guts to use America’s leverage over the country but only to register his protest against the downfall of the Brotherhood.

This will do nothing to help Morsi and the rest of his authoritarian crew that had already topped the excesses of the Mubarak regime in only a year. The Egyptian military knows despite the attempt of the Brotherhood to sell the West on the myth that a fascist-style movement like theses Islamists is democratic in nature, the only way to prevent it from fomenting violence is to use the same tactics it wanted to employ against Morsi’s critics.

But by doing so in this manner, the president has made it clear again to the Egyptian people that his sympathies are not with those who want a government that doesn’t wish to impose Islamism on the country or the minority that actually want democracy but with Morsi and the Brotherhood. Rather than repair the damage he has done in the last three years, it looks like the president sounds as if he is determined to double down on his mistakes.

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Is Obama Losing Egypt Again?

Once again the future of Egypt hangs in the balance. The ultimatum delivered yesterday to the Muslim Brotherhood government by the Egyptian military puts President Mohamed Morsi on notice that it will not tolerate repression of the protesters who have turned out in unprecedented numbers this week to demonstrate against the Islamist movement’s push to seize total power. Should Morsi agree to early elections, that might avert a confrontation. But given his determination to press on with his Islamist project and with a massive following of his own that could be unleashed on the streets, it’s not clear whether the president will try to call the army’s bluff or back down. No foreign power, even one with the leverage that the billions in annual aid to Egypt gives the United States, can solely determine the outcome of this standoff. But anything President Obama does or says at this crucial moment can have a disproportionate impact on what will happen. Thus, the news that President Obama is trying to play both ends against the middle in Egypt is a discouraging sign that once again the administration doesn’t understand the stakes involved in this struggle and where U.S. interests lie.

As CNN reports, the United States is sending out mixed messages to the competing factions. On the one hand, reportedly the president told Morsi that he should agree to new elections, a sign that finally the administration is stepping away from its embrace of the Brotherhood government. On the other hand, it has apparently also warned the military that the U.S. will not tolerate a move to unseat Morsi or to impose its own “road map” to a new government, as the army has warned it will do should the Egyptian president allow the 48-hour ultimatum to expire without agreeing to respect the demands of the protesters.

While it is clear the U.S. is in a difficult position, Obama’s attempt to thread the needle in Cairo may well wind up leaving America with the worst of both worlds. As it did in 2011 when its equivocal response to the Arab Spring protests helped dump Mubarak while at the same time alienating the Egyptian people, the administration has not made clear its priorities. After a year in which the actions of both Washington and Ambassador Anne Patterson have left the impression that President Obama is firmly committed to supporting Morsi, the threat of an aid cutoff if the military acts to curb the Brotherhood may have far more resonance that its sotto voce whispers about new elections. The result is that by refusing to fully support the military’s efforts to prevent Morsi from consolidating power, the United States may be missing another opportunity to prevent Egypt from slipping irrevocably into Islamist tyranny.

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Once again the future of Egypt hangs in the balance. The ultimatum delivered yesterday to the Muslim Brotherhood government by the Egyptian military puts President Mohamed Morsi on notice that it will not tolerate repression of the protesters who have turned out in unprecedented numbers this week to demonstrate against the Islamist movement’s push to seize total power. Should Morsi agree to early elections, that might avert a confrontation. But given his determination to press on with his Islamist project and with a massive following of his own that could be unleashed on the streets, it’s not clear whether the president will try to call the army’s bluff or back down. No foreign power, even one with the leverage that the billions in annual aid to Egypt gives the United States, can solely determine the outcome of this standoff. But anything President Obama does or says at this crucial moment can have a disproportionate impact on what will happen. Thus, the news that President Obama is trying to play both ends against the middle in Egypt is a discouraging sign that once again the administration doesn’t understand the stakes involved in this struggle and where U.S. interests lie.

As CNN reports, the United States is sending out mixed messages to the competing factions. On the one hand, reportedly the president told Morsi that he should agree to new elections, a sign that finally the administration is stepping away from its embrace of the Brotherhood government. On the other hand, it has apparently also warned the military that the U.S. will not tolerate a move to unseat Morsi or to impose its own “road map” to a new government, as the army has warned it will do should the Egyptian president allow the 48-hour ultimatum to expire without agreeing to respect the demands of the protesters.

While it is clear the U.S. is in a difficult position, Obama’s attempt to thread the needle in Cairo may well wind up leaving America with the worst of both worlds. As it did in 2011 when its equivocal response to the Arab Spring protests helped dump Mubarak while at the same time alienating the Egyptian people, the administration has not made clear its priorities. After a year in which the actions of both Washington and Ambassador Anne Patterson have left the impression that President Obama is firmly committed to supporting Morsi, the threat of an aid cutoff if the military acts to curb the Brotherhood may have far more resonance that its sotto voce whispers about new elections. The result is that by refusing to fully support the military’s efforts to prevent Morsi from consolidating power, the United States may be missing another opportunity to prevent Egypt from slipping irrevocably into Islamist tyranny.

From the start of the Arab Spring protests, President Obama has sought to portray himself as a supporter of those who wanted to overthrow authoritarian dictatorships in the Muslim world. This is a laudable impulse, but the practical effect of this policy has been to lend the legitimacy of U.S. backing to Islamist movements like the Brotherhood who used their superior organization to win the elections that followed Mubarak’s fall. Elections are important. But when voting takes place in the absence of a consensus in favor of democratic principles, it is often a poor barometer of genuine progress toward freedom. Like the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, the Brotherhood’s triumph at the ballot box wasn’t an indication that Egypt was on its way to democracy. As Morsi has proven over the course of the last year, it was merely a way station toward the Brotherhood’s plans to remake the country in its own image, something that horrified many moderate Muslims as well as secular and Christian Egyptians.

It should also have shocked an Obama administration that used its considerable influence over the Egyptian military to force them to stand aside and let Morsi and the Brotherhood take over the government last year. But now that the people have risen in numbers that dwarf the considerable protests that helped oust Mubarak, it is time for the United States to make it clear that what it wants is an end to the brief and unhappy experiment of Brotherhood rule.

President Obama has shown himself to be reluctant to throw America’s weight around when it comes to defending U.S. interests as opposed to those causes that can be portrayed as a gesture toward universal principles. Thus, he seems averse to anything that can be seen as repressing the will of the Egyptian people. But after a year of the Brotherhood’s efforts to undermine any checks and balances on its power, the demonstrators realize something that perhaps has eluded the president and his inner circle: this is probably Egypt’s last chance to oust Morsi before he completes the process of consolidating his power.

If the U.S. forces the Egyptian military to back down as it did last year, then it is highly unlikely that Morsi and the Brotherhood will ever be successfully challenged. Without the military behind them, the anti-Morsi protests could be repressed. More elections may follow, but if the Brotherhood is allowed to complete its conquest of the bureaucracy, the media and the military, then it is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to unseat them.

Much as he would like to avoid picking sides, the time is fast approaching when Obama must choose between his strange willingness to make common cause with the Brotherhood and its Turkish ally, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the need to help those who wish to prevent Egypt from sinking into an Islamist nightmare. In this case, ambivalence and nuance is not, as the administration seems to think, the same thing as effective strategy or a defense of U.S. interests. As Egypt heads toward the precipice, President Obama must make it clear that America will back those who seek to prevent a Brotherhood dictatorship. If he doesn’t, both history and the Egyptian people may never forgive him.

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Obama’s Ominous Silence on Egypt Chaos

Egypt appears to be on the brink of chaos this week but the best advice America’s ambassador has for an embattled religious minority in the world’s most populous country is to stay home. The report about the visit of Ambassador Anne Patterson to Coptic Pope Tawadros II came from an Egyptian paper but is spreading rapidly around the Internet and being cited as an example of the tacit support the United States continues to show for the government of President Mohamed Morsi even as the country starts to fall apart. But with a mass protest scheduled for Sunday—the event Ambassador Patterson wanted Copts to stay away from—the president’s attitude toward the demonstrations that are shaking Morsi’s grip on power is more than a matter of curiosity.

This is, after all, an administration that did a lot to encourage the first round of Arab spring protests in Egypt that took down longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak and ultimately replaced him with a Muslim Brotherhood government that may be far worse than the deposed authoritarian. But with Morsi’s calling on loyal army units to be reinforced and to be prepared for what may be an effort to suppress the protests, the White House has been remarkably quiet about what’s going on in Egypt.

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Egypt appears to be on the brink of chaos this week but the best advice America’s ambassador has for an embattled religious minority in the world’s most populous country is to stay home. The report about the visit of Ambassador Anne Patterson to Coptic Pope Tawadros II came from an Egyptian paper but is spreading rapidly around the Internet and being cited as an example of the tacit support the United States continues to show for the government of President Mohamed Morsi even as the country starts to fall apart. But with a mass protest scheduled for Sunday—the event Ambassador Patterson wanted Copts to stay away from—the president’s attitude toward the demonstrations that are shaking Morsi’s grip on power is more than a matter of curiosity.

This is, after all, an administration that did a lot to encourage the first round of Arab spring protests in Egypt that took down longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak and ultimately replaced him with a Muslim Brotherhood government that may be far worse than the deposed authoritarian. But with Morsi’s calling on loyal army units to be reinforced and to be prepared for what may be an effort to suppress the protests, the White House has been remarkably quiet about what’s going on in Egypt.

The problem here is that as far as many Egyptians are concerned, they have merely swapped a secular tyrant for a theocratic one and now see that that placing the Brotherhood in power was a terrible mistake. The Brotherhood hasn’t shown much aptitude for government and its actions have given the lie to the promises its leaders made to naïve Western journalists about not wishing to impose their fanatical religious beliefs on the rest of the nation.

There was a moment when Obama could have used the limited leverage that the U.S. has over the situation due to the billions it gives Egypt every year to try and help the military keep the Islamists from taking power. But instead, Obama pressured the army to let the Brotherhood rule. Now, after having been placed under Morsi’s thumb as part of a number of measures undertaken to solidify his party’s grasp on every aspect of Egypt’s government, the Islamists are looking to the army to help keep them in control and the U.S. seems to have nothing more helpful to say about than to tell Christians to stay out of it.

As with the protests that have shaken the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—another Obama favorite—the U.S. has adopted a position of indifferent silence toward pro-democracy protesters in Cairo and other Egyptian sites where demonstrations have spread. This is very different from the outspoken position the administration took in 2010 when the Arab Spring protests spread across the region.

The question Americans ought to be asking about U.S. policy toward Egypt is why it was in the interests of the U.S. to support the Arab Spring in 2010 but not to support those Egyptians who wish to prevent their country from falling irrevocably into the hands of Islamists? The inability of the White House to provide a coherent answer to that query can be directly linked to the decline in U.S. influence in the region and the daunting prospects of even worse to come in the future.

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The U.S. and the Murders at the Cathedral

Assurances about the benign intent of the Muslim Brotherhood have been the coin of the realm in Washington in the past year as the Obama administration justified its continued embrace of the Egyptian government. But even though we are still being told that there is no alternative to engagement with Mohamed Morsi’s regime, the escalation of anti-Christian violence ought to shock Americans into the realization that they are subsidizing a regime bent on oppressing religious minorities.

The siege of the Christian Cathedral in Cairo was condemned by Morsi, who told the sect’s pope in a phone call that he considered “any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally” and then ordered an investigation into the incident. But the source of the trouble isn’t a mystery. As the New York Times reports, uniformed police and security personnel joined Muslim mobs as they attacked the sacred site in fighting that left four Christians dead. Christians are connecting the dots between the Brotherhood’s sectarian agitation and drive for total power and the growing number of attacks on them. While Morsi tries to give his movement what an American bureaucrat might call “plausible deniability,” Islamist street thugs are under the understandable impression that they have the approval of the movement that has seized control of the country when the police join their depredations rather than stop them. The only mystery is how long it will take for a U.S. government that is still sending nearly $2 billion a year to Egypt’s government, as well as military equipment, to understand that it can’t pretend to talk about supporting the goals of the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy protesters while backing Morsi.

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Assurances about the benign intent of the Muslim Brotherhood have been the coin of the realm in Washington in the past year as the Obama administration justified its continued embrace of the Egyptian government. But even though we are still being told that there is no alternative to engagement with Mohamed Morsi’s regime, the escalation of anti-Christian violence ought to shock Americans into the realization that they are subsidizing a regime bent on oppressing religious minorities.

The siege of the Christian Cathedral in Cairo was condemned by Morsi, who told the sect’s pope in a phone call that he considered “any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally” and then ordered an investigation into the incident. But the source of the trouble isn’t a mystery. As the New York Times reports, uniformed police and security personnel joined Muslim mobs as they attacked the sacred site in fighting that left four Christians dead. Christians are connecting the dots between the Brotherhood’s sectarian agitation and drive for total power and the growing number of attacks on them. While Morsi tries to give his movement what an American bureaucrat might call “plausible deniability,” Islamist street thugs are under the understandable impression that they have the approval of the movement that has seized control of the country when the police join their depredations rather than stop them. The only mystery is how long it will take for a U.S. government that is still sending nearly $2 billion a year to Egypt’s government, as well as military equipment, to understand that it can’t pretend to talk about supporting the goals of the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy protesters while backing Morsi.

It does no good to pretend, as some claim, that Morsi can’t stop the attacks on Christians or that the forces pushing the country to the brink of religious war are unrelated to the Brotherhood and its supporters. While attacks on Christians were hardly unknown during the long reign of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, it isn’t possible to separate the heightened tension from the expectations of Islamists that they have the Christian minority on the run. The brazen manner with which these mobs have attacked a symbol of Christianity like the Cathedral with the assistance of the police is a signal that things are heading in the wrong direction. The spectacle of security forces with armored personnel carriers and tear gas canons joining the violence on the side of thugs throwing rocks and firebombs at Christian mourners leaving the cathedral makes it hard to argue that this is the work of extremists unconnected with the ruling party.

That Muslims who are prepared to riot and murder at the merest hint of insult aimed at Islam taunted the Christians with what the Times called “lewd gestures involving the cross” in the presence of the police is itself appalling. But it is also indicative of a shift in the mood of the Middle East, in which it is clear that anything goes when it comes to religious conflict. Though the Brotherhood has promised gullible Westerners that it won’t impose its beliefs on non-Muslims or turn the country into a theocratic state, evidence is mounting that the Kulturkampf in Egypt is in full swing.

If President Obama is serious about standing up for human rights, it is necessary for him to speak out publicly against what is going on in Egypt and to start using some of the leverage over its government that he was quick to employ when showing Mubarak the door or threatening the military to allow the Brotherhood to take office. If he fails to do so, the Muslim and Arab world won’t be slow to draw the same conclusions that Egyptians in the street are drawing from the role of the police in the assault on the cathedral. They will think that Obama is indifferent to the fate of the Copts or, even worse, that he has no problems with the Brotherhood’s push for power.

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No Alternative to Appeasing Morsi?

I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

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I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

I have always thought those who blamed the Obama administration for the fall of the Mubarak regime were giving it too much credit. Mubarak was on his way out no matter what Washington did. But the administration does bear a good deal of the blame for the way that the Brotherhood has risen to power since then. The president had no scruples about using the leverage provided by the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid that Egypt gets annually to force the army to accede to a Brotherhood government. But when offered the opportunity to use that same influence to stop the Brotherhood from seeking to eliminate any checks on that power from either the judiciary or the military, he has refused to do so.

Without a demonstrated willingness to cut off aid to the Morsi government or to cancel arms shipments, the engagement policy that Biden defended is just talk–and the Brotherhood has shown in the last year it considers American talk to be very cheap indeed.

The notion that Morsi can be encouraged to confront “extremists,” as Biden claims, is itself an absurdity. While there are groups that are even more extreme than Morsi and the Brotherhood, they are extreme enough to present a clear threat not only to secular Egyptians but also to regional stability and American interests. It’s all well and good for Biden to say that the administration isn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but a policy that is based on the notion that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization or that it can be trusted not to impose Sharia-style law on Egyptian society or to move away from a cold yet working relationship with Israel is the one that is not realistic.

Those Egyptians, including the non-Islamists in the military, are waiting for America to show some sign that it is not willing to continue subsidizing the Brotherhood. If Morsi has not already broken the treaty with Israel, it is not because of Obama’s engagement but because he knows a return to war or warlike conditions is unsustainable given his country’s weakness. But the longer he stays in power with America’s approval, the more likely it is that he will grow bolder and the result will be bad for Egyptians and the United States.

The rabid anti-Semite at the head of the Cairo government isn’t interested in the administration’s concerns. So long as the money keeps coming and the U.S. is not actively seeking to encourage the opposition to the Islamist movement, they know they have nothing to fear. Obama’s engagement with Morsi is no more likely to succeed than the similarly named policy he tried with the Islamist leaders of Iran.

While the vice president tried to portray the current policy toward Egypt as pragmatic, it is actually a path to further problems and violence. Time is running out for the U.S. to start trying to remedy a situation in Cairo that is rapidly moving past the point of no return. Any more American engagement with Morsi will put an end to any hope for progress in Egypt or for retrieving the U.S. influence that Obama has already lost.

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Obama’s Bad Brotherhood Bet

For the last few months, conservative critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have obsessed about its failure in Libya. The fiasco in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans including our ambassador deserved more media scrutiny and Republicans are right to continue to demand answers about it. But the unfolding disaster next door in Egypt is a far greater indication of the way the president has blundered abroad than even that tragic episode. Obama’s decision to force the Egyptian military to accept a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and Washington’s subsequent embrace of Mohamed Morsi’s regime has materially aided the descent of the most populous Arab country into the grip of an Islamist party. The Brotherhood regime is determined to extinguish any hope of liberalization in Egypt and its drive to seize total power there is a direct threat to regional stability and Middle East peace.

Rather than using the leverage that the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt gives it, the administration has loyally stuck to Morsi despite his seizing of powers that are comparable to those of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his efforts to violently repress the widespread dissatisfaction with his government. There is no sign that anyone in the State Department or the White House realizes that the U.S. bet on the Brotherhood is a disaster, but yesterday’s column by one of the leading peddlers of conventional wisdom on foreign policy ought to concern Morsi. If the Islamists have lost Thomas Friedman, then there is at least a little hope that their campaign to swindle American liberals into backing them is going to eventually crash.

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For the last few months, conservative critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have obsessed about its failure in Libya. The fiasco in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans including our ambassador deserved more media scrutiny and Republicans are right to continue to demand answers about it. But the unfolding disaster next door in Egypt is a far greater indication of the way the president has blundered abroad than even that tragic episode. Obama’s decision to force the Egyptian military to accept a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and Washington’s subsequent embrace of Mohamed Morsi’s regime has materially aided the descent of the most populous Arab country into the grip of an Islamist party. The Brotherhood regime is determined to extinguish any hope of liberalization in Egypt and its drive to seize total power there is a direct threat to regional stability and Middle East peace.

Rather than using the leverage that the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt gives it, the administration has loyally stuck to Morsi despite his seizing of powers that are comparable to those of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his efforts to violently repress the widespread dissatisfaction with his government. There is no sign that anyone in the State Department or the White House realizes that the U.S. bet on the Brotherhood is a disaster, but yesterday’s column by one of the leading peddlers of conventional wisdom on foreign policy ought to concern Morsi. If the Islamists have lost Thomas Friedman, then there is at least a little hope that their campaign to swindle American liberals into backing them is going to eventually crash.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Friedman did something we haven’t seen much of in that newspaper: tell the truth about the Brotherhood’s intentions and its ideological drive to transform Egypt. While the paper’s news pages and fellow columnists like Nicholas Kristof have bought into the baloney the Brotherhood has served up to foreign journalists about their moderation and desire for democracy and progress, Friedman made it clear that their tyrannical impulse is no aberration. Even more important, he made it clear that the Obama administration’s apparent belief that they can reinvent the modus vivendi that formally existed between the U.S. and Mubarak with Morsi is a terrible mistake.

As Friedman notes, the Brotherhood has prioritized the cleansing of non-Islamist aspects of Egyptian culture over its supposed hope to reboot the economy. The banning of the Belly Dancing Channel on Egyptian TV made for a comic lede for Friedman’s column, but it is no joke, as it illustrates Morsi’s desire to turn a multi-faceted society into another Iran.

Yet as right as Friedman is about the current situation, his advice about the Brotherhood having to change or fail misses the point about a movement that has no intention of ever allowing power to slip from its hands. Friedman is right that the Brotherhood’s version of political Islam will sink Egypt into poverty. The problem is that they are no more willing or capable of becoming more democratic or open-minded about non-Islamist culture than they are of ever accepting peace with Israel.

Friedman praises what he claims is an Obama administration decision to convey their concerns about the direction of Egypt privately rather than publicly. He also supports an apparent decision to invite Morsi to Washington for a visit where he can try to charm the U.S. into keeping the flow of American taxpayer dollars into his government’s coffers.

But the more time the U.S. takes in conveying the message that it will not back an Egyptian government intent on an Islamist kulturkampf, the less chance there will be that it can influence events in Cairo. We already know what a bad bet Obama has made in backing Morsi and the Brotherhood. It may already be too late to reverse the damage that was done by the president’s feckless embrace of the Islamists. If, as Friedman acknowledges, the direction the Brotherhood is taking Egypt, and by extension the region, is one that can lead to chaos, tyranny and violence, an American decision to cut Morsi off can’t come too soon. 

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Morsi’s Hamas Connection

Apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt have spent much of the last year attempting to argue that the Islamist movement is not the extremist group its critics make it out to be. They claim it is not only moderate in its religious views but that it is a pragmatic organization that can be a stabilizing force in the region. The whitewash of the Brotherhood’s ideology is made possible by both the general ignorance of the American people about the group’s origins and its beliefs as well as by the willingness of many in the American media to buy into the transparent propaganda they’ve been fed about their goals. However, the hate speech of President Mohamed Morsi and his putsch to seize total power in the manner of his authoritarian predecessor Hosni Mubarak, as well as the group’s efforts to impose their version of sharia law on the rest of Egyptian society, should have cured them of their ignorance.

But the latest evidence of the radical nature of the Brotherhood government comes from its ally Hamas. Under Morsi, Egypt has become a helpful friend to the Gaza regime, a marked change from the hostility that Mubarak demonstrated toward it. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports at the Gatestone Institute website, friendship between the Brotherhood and Hamas is a two-way street. He reports that Egyptian media outlets are saying that a large number of Hamas militiamen may have crossed from Gaza into Sinai in the last week and then headed to various Egyptian cities to help the Brotherhood suppress pro-democracy and anti-Islamist protests that have broken out across the country. If true, this not only means that the ties between the supposed “moderates” of the Brotherhood and the terrorists of Hamas are closer than ever, but that Morsi is seeking to use these killers as a counter-force against possible action by the Egyptian army to check his attempt to seize total power.

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Apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt have spent much of the last year attempting to argue that the Islamist movement is not the extremist group its critics make it out to be. They claim it is not only moderate in its religious views but that it is a pragmatic organization that can be a stabilizing force in the region. The whitewash of the Brotherhood’s ideology is made possible by both the general ignorance of the American people about the group’s origins and its beliefs as well as by the willingness of many in the American media to buy into the transparent propaganda they’ve been fed about their goals. However, the hate speech of President Mohamed Morsi and his putsch to seize total power in the manner of his authoritarian predecessor Hosni Mubarak, as well as the group’s efforts to impose their version of sharia law on the rest of Egyptian society, should have cured them of their ignorance.

But the latest evidence of the radical nature of the Brotherhood government comes from its ally Hamas. Under Morsi, Egypt has become a helpful friend to the Gaza regime, a marked change from the hostility that Mubarak demonstrated toward it. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports at the Gatestone Institute website, friendship between the Brotherhood and Hamas is a two-way street. He reports that Egyptian media outlets are saying that a large number of Hamas militiamen may have crossed from Gaza into Sinai in the last week and then headed to various Egyptian cities to help the Brotherhood suppress pro-democracy and anti-Islamist protests that have broken out across the country. If true, this not only means that the ties between the supposed “moderates” of the Brotherhood and the terrorists of Hamas are closer than ever, but that Morsi is seeking to use these killers as a counter-force against possible action by the Egyptian army to check his attempt to seize total power.

That operatives of a group that is labeled by the United States as a terrorist group may have become the shock troops of the leader of an allied country like Egypt may be shocking to many Americans. But it will come as no surprise to anyone who is aware that Hamas was founded as an offshoot of the Egyptian Islamist movement. The connection between the two groups as well as their supporters in other Muslim countries is no secret. As Abu Toameh writes:

This week, a Gulf newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej published what it described as “secret documents” proving that Hamas, with the financial backing of Qatar, had plans to send hundreds of militiamen to Egypt to help Morsi’s regime.

One of the classified documents, signed by Hamas’s armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, talks about the need to send “warriors to help our brothers in Egypt who are facing attempts by the former regime [of Hosni Mubarak] to return to power.”

The alliance between Hamas and the Brotherhood has great advantages for both groups.

Morsi’s Egyptian followers may be highly organized, but they lack the experience in street violence and terror that Hamas members have. They also may have scruples about killing and torturing fellow Egyptians. The Palestinians are used to ruthlessly suppressing dissent in Gaza. Hamas staged a bloody coup in 2006 to oust Fatah from control there and thus knows what it stakes to secure power.

On the other hand, Hamas’s stock among Palestinians has risen markedly since the Brotherhood took power. Egypt no longer enforces the blockade of Gaza. Rather than worrying about holding onto Gaza, as they may have done when they were locked in a vise between the Israelis and Mubarak’s Egypt, they are now thinking seriously about how best to wrest control of the West Bank from their Palestinian rivals.

The Hamas connection should send a chill down the spines of anyone who still held onto hope that the Arab Spring would produce more, rather than less, freedom for Egypt. But it should also remind Americans that they are still sending more than $1 billion a year in U.S. aid and selling F-16 aircraft to Morsi’s Egypt. Members of Congress who continue to back this foolish policy need to ask themselves whether it makes sense to funnel taxpayer dollars to Egypt in the hope of supporting regional stability if what they are really doing is bolstering a government that depends on Hamas terrorists to stay in power.

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Why Is Obama Arming Enemies?

As Iran teetered on the brink of revolution, the Carter administration transferred approximately 70 F-14 fighter jets to the Iranian air force. At the time, the F-14 was perhaps the top platform in the U.S. Air Force, a plane upon which a generation of American air defense rested. It is ironic that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Air Force is today the only country that actively uses the F-14, although some U.S. National Guard units do also occasionally fly the plane.

Alas, President Obama appears determined to repeat Jimmy Carter’s mistakes. Giving Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is bad enough. While Turkey was part of the consortium that built the fuselage, what Turkey now demands is the software codes and keys to the technology which make that fighter jet the platform upon which the next generation of American air power will rest.

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As Iran teetered on the brink of revolution, the Carter administration transferred approximately 70 F-14 fighter jets to the Iranian air force. At the time, the F-14 was perhaps the top platform in the U.S. Air Force, a plane upon which a generation of American air defense rested. It is ironic that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Air Force is today the only country that actively uses the F-14, although some U.S. National Guard units do also occasionally fly the plane.

Alas, President Obama appears determined to repeat Jimmy Carter’s mistakes. Giving Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is bad enough. While Turkey was part of the consortium that built the fuselage, what Turkey now demands is the software codes and keys to the technology which make that fighter jet the platform upon which the next generation of American air power will rest.

As Daniel Pipes rightly points out, the statement by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is a must read for just how out of touch the Obama administration and the State Department have become on Egypt. In an article for COMMENTARY in October 2012, I examined how the West has whitewashed Islamism and gotten the Muslim Brotherhood wrong. No one doubts the organization’s early radicalism. In his 1964 manifesto Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (“Milestones”), influential Brotherhood theoretician Sayyid Qutb urged violent jihad to return Egypt and other majority Muslim lands to his ideals of purity. By doing so, he paved the intellectual route for Abdullah Azzam, Osama Bin Laden, and current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Hassan Banna’s successor as leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was Hassan al-Hudaybi. He was long overshadowed by Qutb, but used Qutb’s 1966 execution as an opportunity to shift the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach. He published Du’at la Qudat (“Preachers, Not Judges”) that refuted Qutb’s radicalism. Largely on the basis of Hudaybi’s writing, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Western apologists say the Brotherhood has evolved, denounced violence, and shed its ideological rigidity.

Mohamed Morsi, however, should definitively end this debate. If Anne Patterson truly believes that Egypt can “continue to serve as a force for peace, security, and leadership as the Middle East proceeds with its challenging yet essential journey toward democracy,” and that arming Morsi, who prays for the eradication of world Jewry and embraces the most ridiculous conspiracy theories, will help Egypt toward that goal, then something has gone terribly wrong in Foggy Bottom.

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Clinton’s Victory Lap Ignores Egypt

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

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Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a victory lap around the networks this week, taking bows and basking in the admiration of a largely sycophantic media that agrees with President Obama’s glowing praise of her service. We know his praise, as well as the willingness of many in the press to buy into the notion that her willingness to spend a lot of time on airplanes is the same thing as a record of genuine achievement, is strictly political boilerplate. Clinton was a cipher at Foggy Bottom doing Obama’s bidding and has few, if any, actual successes to her credit along with disasters like Benghazi (for which she inexplicably took full responsibility but not blame). But it’s hard to see how her part in directing America’s involvement in the Arab Spring will be seen by history as anything other than placing her in the ranks of the most incompetent stewards of American foreign policy in the country’s history.

Anyone who doubts that evaluation need only ignore the softball interviews and breathless anticipation of another Clinton run for the presidency in 2016 and instead look at accounts of what is going on in Egypt today as the head of that country’s military described it as descending into “chaos.” Since as we noted yesterday, the president told “60 Minutes” that the transition from the Mubarak dictatorship to the current Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo was an administration success, those proclaiming Clinton among the greatest of our secretaries of state have some explaining to do.

Even as “60 Minutes” interviewer Steve Kroft was making sure the president and Mrs. Clinton felt safe from being made to look stupid or bad, tens of thousands of protesters had taken over Tahir Square registering their anger about the fact that the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has assumed the same tyrannical powers as Mubarak. Today violent clashes are spreading throughout the Egyptian capital as a sense is taking hold that, as the New York Times put it, “the state is unraveling.”

The significance of the statement from Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi is that the sidelining of the military during the transition after Mubarak’s fall was very much Clinton’s handiwork. While the administration probably gets more blame than they deserve for the end of Mubarak’s rule, they haven’t gotten enough for the way they helped smooth the way for the Brotherhood’s ascendancy. Clinton used the leverage that the more than $1 billion in American aid Egypt gets from the United States in order to force the generals to stand aside and let the Brotherhood take power. Neither she nor the president has shown the slightest inclination to use that same leverage to push the Brotherhood out or even to make it loosen its grip on total power.

Anyone doubting the importance of this in terms of Clinton’s legacy needs to understand that on her watch, the most populous Arab nation has moved from being a force for moderation in the region to being in the grip of an Islamist government that is not only hostile to our values (as Morsi’s anti-Semitic rants and his equally hateful explanations for them illustrate), but also has re-established good relations with our enemies like Iran, strengthened terrorists like the Hamas regime in Gaza and threatened the peace with Israel.

This is a diplomatic setback of the first order. But instead of speaking out in order to try and restrain Morsi from killing his opponents or supporting those Egyptians who want to know how it is that they have swapped a secular dictator for an Islamist one, Clinton and her boss have made it clear that they will continue funding him. If this is their idea of foreign policy success, we’d hate to see what failure looks like.

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Where’s the Outrage on Morsi’s Hate?

As we noted last week, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to explain his anti-Semitic and anti-American televised rant to a group of visiting American senators was that his claim that Israelis were “the descendants of apes and pigs” was taken out of context. That was bad enough but as it turns out the first reports about the meeting fell far short of conveying just how offensive Morsi’s rationalization of hate was. As Josh Rogin reported yesterday at Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware who was at the meeting said the Morsi implied that Jewish control of the media was the reason why he was being called to account for his hate speech.

This calls into question not just the continuing U.S. aid to the Muslim Brotherhood government headed by Morsi but the determination of the senatorial delegation, including its leader John McCain, to continue their support for the flow of more than a billion dollars in American taxpayer money to a hatemonger. The details of the meeting make it hard to understand how McCain could continue to justify such American support when the explanation for the Morsi rant is actually worse than the original anti-Semitic smears.

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As we noted last week, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to explain his anti-Semitic and anti-American televised rant to a group of visiting American senators was that his claim that Israelis were “the descendants of apes and pigs” was taken out of context. That was bad enough but as it turns out the first reports about the meeting fell far short of conveying just how offensive Morsi’s rationalization of hate was. As Josh Rogin reported yesterday at Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware who was at the meeting said the Morsi implied that Jewish control of the media was the reason why he was being called to account for his hate speech.

This calls into question not just the continuing U.S. aid to the Muslim Brotherhood government headed by Morsi but the determination of the senatorial delegation, including its leader John McCain, to continue their support for the flow of more than a billion dollars in American taxpayer money to a hatemonger. The details of the meeting make it hard to understand how McCain could continue to justify such American support when the explanation for the Morsi rant is actually worse than the original anti-Semitic smears.

According to Coons:

“He was attempting to explain himself … then he said, ‘Well, I think we all know that the media in the United States has made a big deal of this and we know the media of the United States is controlled by certain forces and they don’t view me favorably,’” Coons said.

The Cable asked Coons if Morsi specifically named the Jews as the forces that control the American media. Coons said all the senators believed the implication was obvious.

“He did not say [the Jews], but I watched as the other senators physically recoiled, as did I,” he said. “I thought it was impossible to draw any other conclusion.”

“The meeting then took a very sharply negative turn for some time. It really threatened to cause the entire meeting to come apart so that we could not continue,” Coons said.

Multiple senators impressed upon Morsi that if he was saying the criticisms of his comments were due to the Jews in the media, that statement was potentially even more offensive than his original comments from 2010.

“[Morsi] did not say the Jewish community was making a big deal of this, but he said something [to the effect] that the only conclusion you could read was that he was implying it,” Coons said. “The conversation got so heated that eventually Senator McCain said to the group, ‘OK, we’ve pressed him as hard as we can while being in the boundaries of diplomacy,’” Coons said. “We then went on to discuss a whole range of other topics.”

This raises some serious questions about both U.S. policy and the priorities of those who took part in the meeting.

One has to wonder why it is that a week went by without any of those present at the meeting calling out Morsi for this latest outrage. Did those who kept quiet about this, including McCain, think that Morsi raising the issue of unnamed groups — an obvious reference to Jews — manipulating the media was immaterial to the question of whether U.S. aid to Egypt should continue? Or did they decide that it was unhelpful to their goal of maintaining the U.S. embrace of the Brotherhood for this story to get out sooner?

This revelation makes it imperative that all those present clarify their positions about a policy that requires American taxpayers to go on funding a government that is beginning to rival Iran as a source of anti-Semitic invective. Under Morsi, Egypt is neither a U.S. ally nor a friend. It is a tyrannical regime that has not only subverted the promise of the Arab Spring but also has the potential to be a major source of instability in the region.

If Morsi wants to keep his American money, he’s going to have to do better than to blame his problems on the Jews. And if the senators who attended this meeting and the administration that is determined to keep coddling the Brotherhood wish to justify their position, they are going to have to explain to the American people how giving billions to Morsi is compatible with our values or interests.

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Egypt’s U.S.-Subsidized Politics of Hate

Better late than never is the only way one can describe the New York Times’s decision to run an article about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s history of anti-Semitic slanders. As we wrote here on Contentions two weeks ago, a video of an Egyptian TV interview with the Muslim Brotherhood leader from 2010 has surfaced in which he describes Israelis as “the descendants of apes and pigs” and called for a boycott of the United States. As I noted at the time, revelations about the nature of what passes for rhetoric about Israel and the Jews might come as a shock to readers of the Times–since much of their news coverage, as well as the work of op-ed columnists like Nicholas Kristof, had sought to portray the Brotherhood as moderate and friendly people who just happen to be Muslims–but not to those who have been following these developments without the rose-colored glasses that liberals seem to require to discuss the Arab world. The conceit of the piece about Morsi’s comment is, however, to call attention to the difficult position the Egyptian president has been placed in by reports about his despicable language.

Egyptian figures quoted by the Times get the last word here, as they seem to argue that it isn’t reasonable to expect Morsi to apologize since to do so leaves him vulnerable to criticism from his Islamist supporters and their allies who like that kind of talk. The conclusion seems to be that Americans should judge Morsi only by his recent behavior that has been aimed at least partly at ensuring that the flow of billions of dollars of U.S. aid should continue.

The problem is that Morsi’s use of a phrase that is commonly employed throughout the Muslim world to describe Jews as well as other comments that are straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is so common in Egypt as to make it almost unexceptionable. That is no small measure the result of Brotherhood propaganda and mainstream Islamist thought in which demonization of Israelis, Jews and Americans is commonplace. Try as writers like Kristof might to paint the Brotherhood as a responsible political movement, Jew-hatred is one of its core beliefs. The question here is not so much whether Morsi will publicly disavow these slurs but whether the Obama administration will continue to buy into the myth that Morsi is some kind of a moderate whose government deserves to continue to be treated as an ally.

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Better late than never is the only way one can describe the New York Times’s decision to run an article about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s history of anti-Semitic slanders. As we wrote here on Contentions two weeks ago, a video of an Egyptian TV interview with the Muslim Brotherhood leader from 2010 has surfaced in which he describes Israelis as “the descendants of apes and pigs” and called for a boycott of the United States. As I noted at the time, revelations about the nature of what passes for rhetoric about Israel and the Jews might come as a shock to readers of the Times–since much of their news coverage, as well as the work of op-ed columnists like Nicholas Kristof, had sought to portray the Brotherhood as moderate and friendly people who just happen to be Muslims–but not to those who have been following these developments without the rose-colored glasses that liberals seem to require to discuss the Arab world. The conceit of the piece about Morsi’s comment is, however, to call attention to the difficult position the Egyptian president has been placed in by reports about his despicable language.

Egyptian figures quoted by the Times get the last word here, as they seem to argue that it isn’t reasonable to expect Morsi to apologize since to do so leaves him vulnerable to criticism from his Islamist supporters and their allies who like that kind of talk. The conclusion seems to be that Americans should judge Morsi only by his recent behavior that has been aimed at least partly at ensuring that the flow of billions of dollars of U.S. aid should continue.

The problem is that Morsi’s use of a phrase that is commonly employed throughout the Muslim world to describe Jews as well as other comments that are straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is so common in Egypt as to make it almost unexceptionable. That is no small measure the result of Brotherhood propaganda and mainstream Islamist thought in which demonization of Israelis, Jews and Americans is commonplace. Try as writers like Kristof might to paint the Brotherhood as a responsible political movement, Jew-hatred is one of its core beliefs. The question here is not so much whether Morsi will publicly disavow these slurs but whether the Obama administration will continue to buy into the myth that Morsi is some kind of a moderate whose government deserves to continue to be treated as an ally.

The administration has tread carefully with Morsi over the last several months, even as he moved quickly to consolidate power in Egypt. With the apparent approval of Washington, Morsi has sought to eliminate any possible check on his ability to govern more or less in the same fashion as deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak. Though the Times more or less admits that Morsi’s rhetoric provides us a window as to how he would govern were he not restrained by his need for U.S. cash and Egypt’s relative military weakness, the underlying assumption seems to be that it is America’s interest to prefer him to any possible alternative. It also assumes that Morsi’s influence on events in the region, such as Hamas’s missile offensive against Israel last November, has been entirely benevolent.

In fact, Hamas’s aggressive attitude and risk taking as well as its attempt to increase its influence in the Fatah-controlled West Bank is directly related to the rise of the Brotherhood in Cairo. It is true that President Obama cannot be entirely blamed for the creation of this mess since Mubarak would have fallen no matter what the U.S. did. But his subsequent coddling of Morsi and the Brotherhood as well as the rebukes issued to the Egyptian military set the stage for a situation in which the most populous country in the Arab world is run by a raging anti-Semite who is working to undermine U.S. influence in the region and to strengthen radical forces while being subsidized by American taxpayers.

Morsi’s talk about “apes and pigs” is not a side issue to be ignored in the name of stability or preserving an American ally. It goes straight to the heart of whether Egypt should be treated as a nation ruled by a radical and hostile government that is confident that nothing it does will cause it to lose its American subsidy.

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The Egyptian Idea of Brotherhood

Not much is expected to change at the State Department when John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton. That’s especially true in terms of the Middle East, where Kerry is not expected to be any more eager to push Iran than Clinton. Nor is he likely to take a more jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, which was been the particular object of U.S. affection in the latter half of 2012 as Mohamed Morsi consolidated power without much in the way of protest from an administration that continues to funnel billions in aid to Cairo. Kerry appears to share the State Department consensus that Morsi and the Brotherhood are deserving of continued American largesse and regards the Islamists as a moderating force in the region rather than as the enablers of Hamas.

It remains to be seen whether his former Senate colleagues will press Kerry much on the subject. But in case anyone on the Hill is inclined to buy into the happy talk about the Brotherhood that is being sold by the State Department and mainstream media outlets eager to portray the Brotherhood as the Egyptian equivalent of the Islamist government of Turkey that President Obama is so fond of, they ought to take a look at this video uncovered by Memritv.org, the indispensable window into the Arab media. In this 2010 appearance on Lebanon’s Al Quds TV, the Brotherhood leader and future Egyptian president not only denounces any peace negotiations with Israelis, whom he called bloodsuckers, warmongers, and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” but also called for a boycott of U.S. products.

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Not much is expected to change at the State Department when John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton. That’s especially true in terms of the Middle East, where Kerry is not expected to be any more eager to push Iran than Clinton. Nor is he likely to take a more jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, which was been the particular object of U.S. affection in the latter half of 2012 as Mohamed Morsi consolidated power without much in the way of protest from an administration that continues to funnel billions in aid to Cairo. Kerry appears to share the State Department consensus that Morsi and the Brotherhood are deserving of continued American largesse and regards the Islamists as a moderating force in the region rather than as the enablers of Hamas.

It remains to be seen whether his former Senate colleagues will press Kerry much on the subject. But in case anyone on the Hill is inclined to buy into the happy talk about the Brotherhood that is being sold by the State Department and mainstream media outlets eager to portray the Brotherhood as the Egyptian equivalent of the Islamist government of Turkey that President Obama is so fond of, they ought to take a look at this video uncovered by Memritv.org, the indispensable window into the Arab media. In this 2010 appearance on Lebanon’s Al Quds TV, the Brotherhood leader and future Egyptian president not only denounces any peace negotiations with Israelis, whom he called bloodsuckers, warmongers, and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” but also called for a boycott of U.S. products.

This should come as a bit of a surprise to readers of publications like the New York Times, whose correspondents and columnists such as Nicholas Kristof have been at great pains to portray the Brotherhood as nice people with so much in common with Americans. In the rush to embrace the idea that the Brotherhood victory is a triumph for democracy, the group’s ideology, its members and its leaders have all been airbrushed into a picture of modern and tolerant Islam rather than being shown as the font of anti-Western and anti-Semitic hate that it actually has always been.

Those who believe that Morsi is a different man now that he sits in Hosni Mubarak’s old chair with the former dictator’s powers also need to understand that he is the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran in a generation and has continued to attend prayer services, where rhetoric such as he used in the Lebanese show continues to be heard.

Kerry, whose weakness for Arab tyrants was demonstrated by his friendship with the Assad regime in Syria, has always been the sort of person who preferred to believe in his illusions about Middle Eastern leaders rather than his lying eyes and ears. Those who expect anything but grief and violence in the long term from an American embrace of the Brotherhood are bound to be disappointed. As this Morsi tape demonstrates, Egypt is now led by a first-class hatemonger that has little use for peace with Israel or friendship with the United States.

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Illusions About Egypt’s Islamist Future

We won’t know the outcome of the referendum on Egypt’s proposed new constitution that will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power until after next weekend’s second round of voting. But those betting on the Brotherhood not ensuring that there will be a majority for its confirmation or accepting a negative vote if one is allowed haven’t been paying much attention to the way the group operates or thinks. In the less than two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has moved to seize total power, the latest move coming when President Mohamed Morsi effectively assumed powers comparable to those held by the now imprisoned dictator. Though there has been a courageous effort by the judiciary as well as groups of citizens to stop the Brotherhood, the Islamists have combined ruthless suppression of dissent—including killings of demonstrators that ought in principle to render Morsi vulnerable to the same charges that he is pressing against Mubarak—with a clever mobilization of party cadres to keep their opponents off balance and on the defensive.

This rapid and efficient consolidation of Islamist hegemony in Cairo took a lot of observers by surprise. Many of us had some hope that the Arab Spring would bring democracy to an Arab world where it is largely unknown. But by now only those unwilling to face reality are still pretending the Brotherhood are just a bunch of Muslim democrats. Not surprisingly, Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed page’s resident Middle East expert, is among that group. In a column that is obtuse even by his standards, Friedman speculates that it is just as likely that Egypt will wind up a functioning multi-ethnic democracy like India as a dysfunctional Islamic state like Pakistan. It says a lot about the Times these days that such a foolish and ignorant column is what passes for foreign policy expertise at the paper. But the real problem here is not just one more dumb Times column but the fact that Friedman’s rosy view of the Brotherhood’s democratic potential dovetails with the Obama administration’s ill conceived embrace of the Morsi government.

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We won’t know the outcome of the referendum on Egypt’s proposed new constitution that will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power until after next weekend’s second round of voting. But those betting on the Brotherhood not ensuring that there will be a majority for its confirmation or accepting a negative vote if one is allowed haven’t been paying much attention to the way the group operates or thinks. In the less than two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has moved to seize total power, the latest move coming when President Mohamed Morsi effectively assumed powers comparable to those held by the now imprisoned dictator. Though there has been a courageous effort by the judiciary as well as groups of citizens to stop the Brotherhood, the Islamists have combined ruthless suppression of dissent—including killings of demonstrators that ought in principle to render Morsi vulnerable to the same charges that he is pressing against Mubarak—with a clever mobilization of party cadres to keep their opponents off balance and on the defensive.

This rapid and efficient consolidation of Islamist hegemony in Cairo took a lot of observers by surprise. Many of us had some hope that the Arab Spring would bring democracy to an Arab world where it is largely unknown. But by now only those unwilling to face reality are still pretending the Brotherhood are just a bunch of Muslim democrats. Not surprisingly, Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed page’s resident Middle East expert, is among that group. In a column that is obtuse even by his standards, Friedman speculates that it is just as likely that Egypt will wind up a functioning multi-ethnic democracy like India as a dysfunctional Islamic state like Pakistan. It says a lot about the Times these days that such a foolish and ignorant column is what passes for foreign policy expertise at the paper. But the real problem here is not just one more dumb Times column but the fact that Friedman’s rosy view of the Brotherhood’s democratic potential dovetails with the Obama administration’s ill conceived embrace of the Morsi government.

The obvious enormous differences between the culture and the nature of the Indian state and that of Egypt (which Friedman pays lip service to but then ignores) are so great as to make any discussion of the subject rather one-sided. Suffice it to say that even in the best case scenario for Egypt it will fall far short of India at its worst. But even if we leave this idiotic comparison aside, what has happened in Egypt in the past several months ought to have sobered up anyone still prepared to buy into the idea that the Arab Spring had anything to do with a movement for Arab democracy.

Those who blame President Obama for Mubarak’s fall are giving Washington too much credit. The old regime was doomed and no amount of American backing could have saved it. Where the Obama administration can be faulted is in its lack of interest in helping genuine Egyptian democrats during the president’s much-vaunted outreach to the Arab and Muslim world in his first year in office.

But having backed away from Mubarak, rather than seeking to strengthen the Egyptian military as the only bulwark against the Islamists, Obama did his best to undermine them. Since Morsi’s election, Washington has clearly sided with the Brotherhood and done virtually nothing to hold it accountable for its betrayal of the revolution that brought it to power.

Like Friedman, the State Department is also peddling sunshine about Morsi and the Brotherhood. The result is that instead of a friendly dictator who supports our interests and stability in the region, we now have an unfriendly government on Cairo that is allied with Hamas and opening lines of communication with Iran while still accepting billions in U.S. aid.

The outcome of the constitutional referendum may be foreordained, but it may be the last chance Egyptians will have to stop the imposition of Islamist rule. The opposition to the Brotherhood might have benefited from strong U.S. pressure on Morsi to back down on his putsch, but it never happened. Like Tom Friedman, the president and Secretary of State Clinton are still pretending that Islamism and democracy are compatible. They aren’t and that is a reality that will haunt American Middle East policy for decades to come. 

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Obama’s Silence on Egypt Speaks Volumes

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may be backing down a bit on his attempt to seize dictatorial powers. The Muslim Brotherhood leader agreed to a limited compromise on his assertion of supremacy over the courts in which he would allow the judiciary to exercise review over his edits. This development testifies to the strength of the protests against Morsi’s attempt to acquire as much power as Hosni Mubarak had during his reign in Cairo. But even if Morsi’s putsch is contained for the moment, there is little doubt that he is determined to neutralize any possible competition for control over the country. This is, by any objective measure, a real defeat for an Obama administration that has publicly embraced Morsi and the Brotherhood and publicly disparaged his authoritarian predecessor. It is especially embarrassing since just last week President Obama was heaping praise on Morsi for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, even though it was the Egyptian’s support for Hamas that helped foment the crisis.

But perhaps the most telling thing about the way Egypt is heading back down the road to dictatorship is the relative silence from Morsi’s new buddy in the White House and the State Department. At today’s White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney stayed clear of anything that could possibly be considered criticism of Morsi or the Brotherhood’s power grab, saying merely: “We have some concerns about the decisions and declarations that were announced on November 22.” Carney also denied that the president felt “betrayed” by the way Morsi used Washington’s fulsome praise for him as a platform from which he sought to expand his ability to rule by fiat. Given the way the administration dumped Mubarak and then publicly scolded and threatened the Egyptian military when it tried to act as a brake on the Brotherhood’s drive for hegemony, the White House’s unwillingness to say anything more than that speaks volumes about the way Morsi is viewed in Washington these days.

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may be backing down a bit on his attempt to seize dictatorial powers. The Muslim Brotherhood leader agreed to a limited compromise on his assertion of supremacy over the courts in which he would allow the judiciary to exercise review over his edits. This development testifies to the strength of the protests against Morsi’s attempt to acquire as much power as Hosni Mubarak had during his reign in Cairo. But even if Morsi’s putsch is contained for the moment, there is little doubt that he is determined to neutralize any possible competition for control over the country. This is, by any objective measure, a real defeat for an Obama administration that has publicly embraced Morsi and the Brotherhood and publicly disparaged his authoritarian predecessor. It is especially embarrassing since just last week President Obama was heaping praise on Morsi for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, even though it was the Egyptian’s support for Hamas that helped foment the crisis.

But perhaps the most telling thing about the way Egypt is heading back down the road to dictatorship is the relative silence from Morsi’s new buddy in the White House and the State Department. At today’s White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney stayed clear of anything that could possibly be considered criticism of Morsi or the Brotherhood’s power grab, saying merely: “We have some concerns about the decisions and declarations that were announced on November 22.” Carney also denied that the president felt “betrayed” by the way Morsi used Washington’s fulsome praise for him as a platform from which he sought to expand his ability to rule by fiat. Given the way the administration dumped Mubarak and then publicly scolded and threatened the Egyptian military when it tried to act as a brake on the Brotherhood’s drive for hegemony, the White House’s unwillingness to say anything more than that speaks volumes about the way Morsi is viewed in Washington these days.

One of the interesting nonevents of the past year has been the way the administration has been able to avoid any debate about its attitude toward Morsi and the Brotherhood. Part of that stems from the unfortunate decision by Michele Bachmann and some other conservative members of the House of Representatives to center any complaints on the personal loyalty of Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Clinton and the wife of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner. The pushback against Bachmann was bipartisan and the question was transformed from a reasonable debate that needed to be held about Washington’s embrace of the new Egyptian government to one of whether the House GOP was attempting to subject Abedin to a McCarthy-like inquisition based on anti-Arab prejudice.

Once Abedin was enshrined as a victim of bias, critiques of a policy shift in which Washington had made its peace with Morsi were effectively silenced. And with Morsi being portrayed as a peacemaker between Hamas and Israel, it seemed as if the new regime was being elevated to the same sort of friendly status with which the president views the Islamist government in Turkey.

Morsi’s relentless drive to rule without a parliament, and now without a judiciary able to restrain him, makes that embrace look strikingly similar to past American embraces of dictators. Only this time, the dictator isn’t a pro-U.S. authoritarian but a dedicated Islamist allied with terrorists and determined to limit American influence in the region.

This ought to have been a moment when President Obama would speak up on behalf of a cause that he had been vocal about in the last two years: democracy in the Arab world and in particular in Egypt, where a popular uprising discarded a pro-American, though unsustainable, leader. Instead, all we get from the White House is silence that effectively negates the president’s past embrace of the cause of freedom in the Muslim world. Mubarak and the Egyptian military must be wondering now why it is that their misdeeds were unacceptable in the eyes of Obama but Morsi’s cynical actions are OK. Americans who care about the billions of their taxpayer dollars that are being sent to Egypt should be asking the same thing.

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Obama and the Morsi Dictatorship

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has had quite a week. He helped broker a cease-fire between his Hamas ally and Israel to the acclaim of the international community as well as the United States and his new friend President Obama. He followed that triumph up by issuing new decrees that effectively give him dictatorial powers over Egypt. In less than year in office, Morsi has amassed as much power as Hosni Mubarak had in his time in office as the country’s strongman and he has done it while getting closer to the United States rather than having his Islamist regime being condemned or isolated by Washington.

The full implications of Morsi’s ascendency are not yet apparent. But we can draw a few rather obvious conclusions from these events. The first is this makes the region a much more dangerous place and peace even more unlikely. the second is that the much ballyhooed Arab Spring turned out to be an Islamist triumph, not an opening for democracy. And third, and perhaps most disconcerting for Americans, it looks like the Obama administration has shown itself again to be a band of hopeless amateurs when it comes to the Middle East. While President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for toppling Mubarak, this episode is more proof of the gap between his foreign policy instincts and a rational defense of American interests.

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has had quite a week. He helped broker a cease-fire between his Hamas ally and Israel to the acclaim of the international community as well as the United States and his new friend President Obama. He followed that triumph up by issuing new decrees that effectively give him dictatorial powers over Egypt. In less than year in office, Morsi has amassed as much power as Hosni Mubarak had in his time in office as the country’s strongman and he has done it while getting closer to the United States rather than having his Islamist regime being condemned or isolated by Washington.

The full implications of Morsi’s ascendency are not yet apparent. But we can draw a few rather obvious conclusions from these events. The first is this makes the region a much more dangerous place and peace even more unlikely. the second is that the much ballyhooed Arab Spring turned out to be an Islamist triumph, not an opening for democracy. And third, and perhaps most disconcerting for Americans, it looks like the Obama administration has shown itself again to be a band of hopeless amateurs when it comes to the Middle East. While President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for toppling Mubarak, this episode is more proof of the gap between his foreign policy instincts and a rational defense of American interests.

The first point to be made about the cheering for Morsi’s role in brokering the cease-fire is misplaced. It cannot be emphasized too much that the reason why Hamas felt so confident about picking a fight with Israel that it could not possibly win militarily is the fact that Egypt and fellow regional power Turkey were treating it as an ally rather than as terrorist regime that needed to be isolated and controlled. While Morsi has sought to exercise some influence over Gaza by keeping the border crossings to Sinai closed (more as a result of concern over the violence spilling over into Egyptian territory than a desire to restrain terrorism), the support for the legitimacy of the illegal Hamas regime on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood government has been a game changer.

More than ever before, Hamas now has the whip hand over the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. That makes the already nearly non-existent chances of peace between Palestinians and Israelis even smaller. Though it can be argued that the ability of Hamas to preserve its rule over Gaza following the last bout of fighting with Israel in January 2009 already made it clear that it was a force to be reckoned with, the backing of Egypt and Turkey and the tacit approval of the United States in the cease-fire means there can be no doubt that Hamas truly is the face of Palestinian nationalism these days as well as the owners of an independent Palestinian state in all but name. With Cairo and Ankara backing them up and Iranian missiles in their arsenal, Hamas’s strength makes the standard liberal talking point about it being necessary for Israel to make more concessions to Fatah even more absurd than ever.

If the blockade of Gaza is now to be weakened even further to allow “construction materials” as well as the food and medicine that has never ceased flowing into the area from Israel, then it must be acknowledged that Hamas is more powerful than ever and well placed to make mischief in the region whenever it likes. Rather than applauding Morsi’s role in the cease-fire, Americans should be asking why the administration has acquiesced to having one of their nation’s primary aid recipients being an ally of Hamas. They should also be wondering about what exactly it is that passed between Obama and Morsi during their phone conversations and what promises, if any, were made by the United States about future pressure on Israel.

Morsi’s consolidation of dictatorial power also should not have taken Washington by surprise, as it seems to have done. For several months, the State Department has been acting as if it bought the argument that the Muslim Brotherhood government was basically moderate in nature and more interested in economic development than pursuing ideological goals. But Morsi’s actions, in which he has sidelined every competing power base that might have acted as a check on his ambitions, makes it apparent that his real purpose is to make his movement’s control of the country permanent. Any hope that democracy was coming to Egypt or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world was misplaced. And any idea that the United States can bribe Morsi or any other Islamist into playing ball is sheer folly.

That leads us to the final point about the administration’s utter lack of skill in dealing with the realities of the Middle East.

Even if we were to concede that the president’s motives were pure and that he wanted nothing more than to bring peace to the region and democracy to Arab nations that have never known it, virtually everything that the administration has done has made the achievement of these goals even less likely than before.

The president isn’t personally responsible for the collapse of an unsustainable Mubarak dictatorship. But he did nothing to aid the cause of the few Egyptian liberals who actually want democracy. Worse than that, he undercut the efforts of the Egyptian military to act as a brake on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of seeking to use the billions that Egypt gets from the U.S. as a lever with which he could restrain Cairo from backing Hamas and the Brotherhood from seizing more power, Washington has embraced Morsi. That emboldened Hamas and led to the recent fighting. Though the president said all the right things about backing Israel’s right to self-defense, his diplomatic maneuvering not only helped set the stage for more violence but made it more difficult for Israel to exercise that right.

A president who says he wants peace and democracy in the Middle East is now acting as if the Islamists that run Turkey and Egypt are his new best friends while continuing to treat the head of the only democracy in the region as a nuisance. In doing so, President Obama has helped make the world a lot more dangerous than it might otherwise have been.

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The Threat to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty

Given the brazen nature of Hamas’s decision to provoke the latest round of fighting in and around Gaza, it’s difficult for Israel’s critics to claim that it was not justified in seeking to halt a barrage that sent more than 150 missiles into the south of the country. Nor could they claim with a straight face that Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’s so-called military wing and a man responsible for numerous terrorists attacks and murders, is an innocent victim after the Israel Defense Forces took out his car in a deft targeted attack yesterday. But the naysayers are claiming that in opting to defend Israeli citizens and hopefully making it more difficult for Hamas to resume its terrorist offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is effectively destroying his nation’s peace treaty with Egypt.

That’s the conceit of this New York Times article that depicts Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as being forced into a difficult position by Israel. He is, we are told, trying to maintain the peace treaty in order to appease Western aid donors like the United States, but is still obligated by Egyptian public opinion to denounce Israel. The implication of all this is that if the treaty, which is despised by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and extremely unpopular with the Egyptian public, is scrapped, it will be because Netanyahu has chosen to be provocative.

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Given the brazen nature of Hamas’s decision to provoke the latest round of fighting in and around Gaza, it’s difficult for Israel’s critics to claim that it was not justified in seeking to halt a barrage that sent more than 150 missiles into the south of the country. Nor could they claim with a straight face that Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’s so-called military wing and a man responsible for numerous terrorists attacks and murders, is an innocent victim after the Israel Defense Forces took out his car in a deft targeted attack yesterday. But the naysayers are claiming that in opting to defend Israeli citizens and hopefully making it more difficult for Hamas to resume its terrorist offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is effectively destroying his nation’s peace treaty with Egypt.

That’s the conceit of this New York Times article that depicts Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as being forced into a difficult position by Israel. He is, we are told, trying to maintain the peace treaty in order to appease Western aid donors like the United States, but is still obligated by Egyptian public opinion to denounce Israel. The implication of all this is that if the treaty, which is despised by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and extremely unpopular with the Egyptian public, is scrapped, it will be because Netanyahu has chosen to be provocative.

While it is true that the treaty is in peril, placing the blame for this on Israel is so divorced from reality it’s hard to know where to start to debunk this idea. Morsi is no victim in this scenario. If Egypt’s people are clamoring for the spilling of Israeli blood, it is, in no small measure, because his Islamist party has done its best to promote hatred of Israel and Jews to an extent that few in the West appreciate.

As the Times rightly points out, hatred for Israel is the one factor that seems to unite all elements of Egyptian society. Yet to claim that this is because of the “occupation” or the ill treatment of Palestinians is to misread the problem. Egypt is a country where anti-Semitic incitement is a regular element of popular culture and mainstream political discourse. The visceral hate isn’t about where Israel’s borders should be drawn or specific grievances but the result of decades of incitement against Jews.

The absurdity of Egypt’s response to Hamas’s missile firings that provoked Israel’s counter-attack shouldn’t be ignored. After all, Cairo’s response wasn’t a pusillanimous call for both sides to exercise restraint but an implicit endorsement of Hamas’s right to rain down hundreds of deadly rockets deliberately aimed at Israel’s civilian population.

The idea that Israel should refrain from defending its citizens against indiscriminate missile attacks across an internationally recognized border in order to appease Egyptian public opinion is so morally corrupt that it is barely worth spending the time to refute it. But the main point to take away from this discussion is that Egyptian attitudes toward Israel stem from that country’s deep-seated prejudices, not a rational evaluation of Netanyahu’s policies.

The notion that the treaty’s survival depends on Israel’s quiet acceptance of a steady diet of terror attacks is pure fiction.

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty was not a gift from Egypt to Israel. If anything, it was gift to Egypt from Israel and the United States in that it allowed Cairo to opt out of a costly conflict that it had tired of and rewarded it with an annual bribe in the form of billions of dollars of American taxpayer cash. For decades the Mubarak regime profited from the treaty, but compensated for its heresy against Arab nationalist ideology by allowing anti-Semitism to thrive in the country’s media and popular culture.

Morsi and the Egyptian army are uneasy bedfellows in the current government, but both know that an outright repudiation of the treaty would be a costly error. Since relations with Israel were already ice cold under Mubarak, it has been difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood government to find ways to make them even colder. Morsi is appeasing domestic opinion by recalling his ambassador to Israel and publicly backing Hamas. But he is also being careful not to allow the Gaza terrorist group — which is formally allied with Morsi’s political party — to compromise his freedom of action. Thus, he has not re-opened the terrorist smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza.

If the day comes when Morsi decides he doesn’t need American money anymore, you can bet he may cancel the treaty with Israel even if his country’s military is petrified at the thought of being forced to face off against the IDF. Which is why the preservation of a treaty whose main contemporary purpose is to serve as a rationale for U.S. aid to Egypt isn’t likely to be affected by anything Israel does in Gaza. The real threat to the treaty comes from a culture of Jew hatred, not Israeli self-defense.

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What Egypt Wants: More U.S. Appeasement

Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

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Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

Morsi shouldn’t be blamed for thinking he can get away with disrespect for the United States. In the last month, the Obama administration agreed to forgive part of Egypt’s debt and renewed aid as part of an effort to stabilize a nation that has gone from being a reliable ally under Hosni Mubarak to one that is not afraid to flaunt its friendship for Iran. Morsi responded by stalling (“We took our time”) before eventually shooing rioters out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Though that earned him an icy phone conversation with President Obama, he seems to still think he can set the terms of engagement between the two countries without any fear that Washington will pull the plug on aid.

When he tells the Times that Americans shouldn’t judge Egyptians by Western standards, what he is saying is that if Islamist mobs choose to rampage against embassies or demand the abridgement of free speech elsewhere, the U.S. must “respect” these values or face the consequences. While Morsi complains about videos that show disrespect to their religion, the Egyptian media is a cesspool of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian propaganda. President Obama is right. This isn’t an alliance. Under these circumstances it is something more akin to criminal extortion than friendship, no matter how you define that word.

On one other key point, Morsi is just as shameless. He says that if the United States wants Egypt to maintain the peace treaty it signed in 1979 with Israel, it must force the Jewish state to give self-rule to the Palestinians. While the Camp David Accords did include provisions about autonomy for the Palestinians, he ignores the fact that the 1993 Oslo agreement actually gave the Palestinians autonomy (the treaty with Egypt said nothing about an independent Palestinian state) but that Israel has gotten terror rather than peace in exchange for these concessions. More to the point, under Morsi, Egypt has allowed the Sinai to become a war zone as the latest cross-border attack on Friday proved. Though the Mubarak regime was often unhelpful to the cause of peace, the Morsi government’s ties with Hamas constitute a standing obstacle to any progress as well as a threat of more violence coming from the Sinai.

Having studied here in the 1980s, Morsi thinks he knows America. But his contempt for Western culture is such that he believes that he and other Islamists can dictate terms to the United States with impunity. President Obama’s attempt to win the hearts of minds of the Muslim world failed. But Morsi’s contempt is such that he believes he can demand more appeasement. Morsi says Egypt won’t live by American rules but he seems to think that the U.S. must accept his dictates. Given the refusal of the Obama administration to make him pay a price for this arrogance, there’s no reason for him think that he can’t get away with it.

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War on Women is in Egypt, Not the GOP

Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

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Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

As the Times reports:

Those broader efforts at shaping a conservative religious society, played out over decades by the Brotherhood, were seen as partly responsible for helping elect Mohamed Morsi president in June. At the time, Mr. Morsi, who resigned from the Brotherhood after taking office, gave assurances that he would protect the rights of women and include them in decision-making. Less than three months into his presidency, though, Mr. Morsi has not fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a woman as a vice president. …

Many analysts and critics of the Brotherhood see that kind of philosophy, one that gives women independence so long as they maintain their traditional obligations, as effectively constraining women to established gender roles. …

Free from the restrictions of the government of Hosni Mubarak, which outlawed the Brotherhood, the movement’s social outreach programs have mushroomed since Mr. Morsi’s election. In less than a year, Family House expanded from a single office to 18 branches around Egypt and is developing a plan to encourage all couples to attend.

Though they may be moving cautiously, it should be remembered that the Brotherhood is a movement with social goals for transforming Egyptian society as well as the political system. As was the case in Iran over 30 years when the Islamic revolution stifled secularism, women’s rights will be sacrificed along with political freedom.

Though Washington has no good options in Egypt these days, the irony of the Obama administration’s embrace of an Egyptian government that is waging a real war on women while it runs for re-election accusing Republicans of the same charge should not be lost on the nation.

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Cairo Coup Another Obama “Success”

Last week’s terror attack on Egyptian army troops by jihadists whose ultimate aim was to kill Israelis provoked an unexpectedly harsh reaction from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The chaos in the Sinai is the direct result of the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. The Hamas government looked to benefit from the triumph of their Muslim Brotherhood allies, but the embarrassing slaughter of Egyptians by anti-Israel terrorists has led the new government in Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The prospect of increased security cooperation between Egypt and the United States is slightly encouraging, though Israel’s exclusion from talks concerning its border is both spiteful and foolish.

But while the crackdown in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza may be a hopeful sign the new Egyptian government is unwilling to be dragged into conflict with Israel by the Palestinians, the real news in the aftermath of the shooting is very bad indeed. Morsi’s sacking of Egypt’s intelligence chief (who ignored warnings from Israel about a possible terror attack) is one thing, but the decision of the Egyptian leader to fire two of the country’s leading generals is more than just a personnel shuffle. If Morsi has assumed power of the country’s military, the notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. His firing of Egypt’s defense minister and the army chief of staff makes it clear the Brotherhood is now completely in control of the country. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power.

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Last week’s terror attack on Egyptian army troops by jihadists whose ultimate aim was to kill Israelis provoked an unexpectedly harsh reaction from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The chaos in the Sinai is the direct result of the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. The Hamas government looked to benefit from the triumph of their Muslim Brotherhood allies, but the embarrassing slaughter of Egyptians by anti-Israel terrorists has led the new government in Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The prospect of increased security cooperation between Egypt and the United States is slightly encouraging, though Israel’s exclusion from talks concerning its border is both spiteful and foolish.

But while the crackdown in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza may be a hopeful sign the new Egyptian government is unwilling to be dragged into conflict with Israel by the Palestinians, the real news in the aftermath of the shooting is very bad indeed. Morsi’s sacking of Egypt’s intelligence chief (who ignored warnings from Israel about a possible terror attack) is one thing, but the decision of the Egyptian leader to fire two of the country’s leading generals is more than just a personnel shuffle. If Morsi has assumed power of the country’s military, the notion that the army would or could act as a brake on the Muslim Brotherhood has been shown to be a myth. His firing of Egypt’s defense minister and the army chief of staff makes it clear the Brotherhood is now completely in control of the country. This calls into question not just the future of regional stability but the Obama administration’s equivocal attitude toward the Brotherhood’s push to power.

In the aftermath of the Egyptian election in which Morsi triumphed over the military’s preferred candidate, optimists believed the army’s acquiescence to the Brotherhood’s victory was bought by the group’s willingness to share power. The assumption was that the military would remain in charge even if Morsi would have the trappings of power. But the firing of the two defense chiefs has shown foreign observers underestimated both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s will to come out on top. It’s also apparent that such thinking overestimated the ability of the army to retain the influence it had when Mubarak, himself a former general, ran things.

The implications of what Time aptly termed a Muslim Brotherhood “coup” are far-reaching.

Morsi may not be interested in a direct confrontation with Israel or in allowing Hamas’ desire to keep the border in flames. For all of the fraternal bonds between the Brotherhood and Hamas, even Egyptian Islamists may believe, as most of their countrymen do, the Palestinians are ready to fight Israel to the last Egyptian.

But if there are no longer any effective checks on the Brotherhood, the idea that the United States or Israel can rely upon the army to keep Egypt from being transformed into an Islamist country is without any rational basis. This ought to do more than scare the country’s secular community or even the Christian Copts who constitute up to ten percent of Egypt’s population. It will mean the start of a process whereby the Brotherhood obtains control over every segment of Egyptian society and government. Optimists hope this will mean nothing worse than a copy of Turkey’s drift from secular freedom to Islamist authoritarianism under President Obama’s friend Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But no one should be surprised if a more radical group like the Brotherhood is not satisfied with that and eventually pushes for more radical changes in both Egyptian society and its relations with Israel.

The Obama administration thought it was managing the situation in Egypt via support of the military while conducting outreach to the Brotherhood. But what they find themselves with now is a situation in which the U.S. is giving $1.5 billion per year to a country controlled by an extremist group whose ideology places it in a state of continual conflict with the West. President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may think he has deftly handled an Arab Spring which has seen the region’s most populous country transformed from a Western ally to an Islamist loose cannon. If this is foreign policy success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

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Re: Should U.S. Give Morsi a Chance?

I must respectfully disagree with Max’s wait-and-watch take on an Egypt ruled by Mohammed Morsi. One certainly wants to see a democratic Egypt. And it is not exactly indefensible that Washington expressed hopes the Egyptian military would honor the recent election results. There remains, after all, no viable long-term game plan that relies on dictatorship to keep fanaticism under wraps. But urging countries to respect election results must be accompanied by a clear-eyed vigilance about what those results may portend. Just as a military dictatorship does not a free society make, a theocracy—even a publicly “softer” one that might (might) have incorporated notions of democracy into its ruling framework—is also not the stuff of freedom and tolerance. And in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is very, very far from it.

There is too much evidence of the Brotherhood’s Islamist brutality, militant anti-Americanism, and seething anti-Semitism—both historically and currently—to wipe the slate clean and wait for the ennobling transformation that comes with governing responsibility. The lesson that votes do not constitute democracies has been learned in places such as Algeria in the early 1990s and in the Palestinian territories in 2006. In both cases, the ballot box served as a pathway to Islamist nightmare. Surely, hoping for the best future does not mean dismissing the past.

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I must respectfully disagree with Max’s wait-and-watch take on an Egypt ruled by Mohammed Morsi. One certainly wants to see a democratic Egypt. And it is not exactly indefensible that Washington expressed hopes the Egyptian military would honor the recent election results. There remains, after all, no viable long-term game plan that relies on dictatorship to keep fanaticism under wraps. But urging countries to respect election results must be accompanied by a clear-eyed vigilance about what those results may portend. Just as a military dictatorship does not a free society make, a theocracy—even a publicly “softer” one that might (might) have incorporated notions of democracy into its ruling framework—is also not the stuff of freedom and tolerance. And in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is very, very far from it.

There is too much evidence of the Brotherhood’s Islamist brutality, militant anti-Americanism, and seething anti-Semitism—both historically and currently—to wipe the slate clean and wait for the ennobling transformation that comes with governing responsibility. The lesson that votes do not constitute democracies has been learned in places such as Algeria in the early 1990s and in the Palestinian territories in 2006. In both cases, the ballot box served as a pathway to Islamist nightmare. Surely, hoping for the best future does not mean dismissing the past.

Western policymakers have too often committed the cynical mistake of empowering anti-democratic leaders to clamp down on terrorists. Such thinking was one of the many reasons the Oslo Accords were doomed to failure. What Natan Sharansky has labeled “fear societies” will always seek outside enemies on whom to blame their lot. Therein lies the genesis of the current Egyptian debacle. But many of us who continue to believe in the virtues of a foreign policy characterized by a freedom agenda are flirting with a mirror-image mistake, a misplaced optimism about democracy in the wake of toppled dictators.

What’s happening now in Egypt is likely to turn very bad indeed. We do no favors for ourselves, Israelis, or heartbroken Egyptian liberals by giving people like Morsi the benefit of the doubt. Max’s assertion that Morsi may be obligated to honor the Camp David Accords could very well be correct. And what’s more, Egypt may have the good sense not to risk Israeli retaliation. But both of these suppositions point toward an opportunity for American action, not observation. If our $1.2 billion in annual aid to Egypt is not what’s keeping the Accords standing, we’d do well to consider making that aid contingent upon compliance with human rights benchmarks and the protection of what few, weak democratic institutions may now be in place in Egypt. Or–and this must be considered–those suppositions are wrong. And in that case, one cannot overstate the potential hazards of the new Egypt.

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