Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mohamed Morsi

What’s Motivating Erdoğan on Egypt?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the most outspoken international leader condemning the coup in Egypt and calling for the restoration of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Certainly, part of Erdoğan’s commitment to Morsi is ideological: Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party is, at its roots, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both share an ideological and religious agenda and hope to remake their societies fundamentally.

It would give Erdoğan too much credit to suggest his only motivation is religious. Erdoğan is no saint; he is vain, coarse, and has amassed an amazing amount of money far beyond his salary or religious alms. In the months before Morsi’s ouster, Turkish defense contractors cultivated Egypt. From Hürriyet Daily News:

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the most outspoken international leader condemning the coup in Egypt and calling for the restoration of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Certainly, part of Erdoğan’s commitment to Morsi is ideological: Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party is, at its roots, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both share an ideological and religious agenda and hope to remake their societies fundamentally.

It would give Erdoğan too much credit to suggest his only motivation is religious. Erdoğan is no saint; he is vain, coarse, and has amassed an amazing amount of money far beyond his salary or religious alms. In the months before Morsi’s ouster, Turkish defense contractors cultivated Egypt. From Hürriyet Daily News:

An Arab diplomat in Ankara said he expected “difficult times” in Turkish-Egyptian relations, which may disrupt economic relations too, unless Ankara and Cairo prefer to pursue a pragmatic line… In May Turkey granted Egypt a $250 million loan to finance Turkish-Egyptian joint defense projects. The loan, the first of its kind, intends to boost defense cooperation and Turkish defense exports to Egypt. Earlier, Egypt expressed an interest in buying the new ANKA Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles built by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Egypt was one of the pioneers in unmanned aerial systems, fielding the Teledyne Ryan Model 324 Scarab high speed drone and SkyEye tactical UAVs since the early 1980s. The addition of a MALE platform will fulfill the gap offering better persistence, improved imagery and multi-payload capacity. The potential sale of six to 10 ANKA systems to Egypt was discussed during Erdoğan’s visit to Cairo last November… In a separate deal, Ankara had approved the sale to Egypt of six multi-role tactical platforms, MRTP-20 “fast-intervention crafts,” produced by the privately-owned shipyards Yonca-Onuk.

Erdoğan may be angry at the financial hit Turkey took in Egypt, but the episode should also be a wake-up call to the changing military balance in the Middle East. While the United States provides Turkey with high-end military platforms, Turkey has been building up a military industry which potentially can change the military balance in the region. The coup may have voided Turkish military contracts in Egypt, but it is an open question what Turkey has provided to Islamists in other Arab Spring countries.

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When Is a Coup Not a Coup?

If you walk into Grand Central Terminal from Lexington Avenue, you will see a clock on the wall above the entrance to the Main Concourse. Below, carved in the stone, it says, “Eastern Standard Time.” That was Grand Central’s year-round time zone when it opened in 1913. But these days, from mid-March to early November, the clock displays eastern daylight time, not standard time.

The lesson here, obviously, is be careful what you carve in stone.

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If you walk into Grand Central Terminal from Lexington Avenue, you will see a clock on the wall above the entrance to the Main Concourse. Below, carved in the stone, it says, “Eastern Standard Time.” That was Grand Central’s year-round time zone when it opened in 1913. But these days, from mid-March to early November, the clock displays eastern daylight time, not standard time.

The lesson here, obviously, is be careful what you carve in stone.

Putting something into law is carving it in stone. Laws are always far easier to enact than they are to repeal. And we have just had a beautiful example of why putting something into law is often a dumb thing to do. Since 1961, when the Foreign Assistance Act was signed, the law requires that should a foreign country experience a coup d’état, U.S. aid to that country must cease. This is fine in theory. This country would very much like the whole world to be governed by democratic governments elected in free and fair elections. We could cut the military budget by ninety percent if it were.

But that is not the way the whole world works and we have to live with reality. The purpose of U.S. foreign aid is not to convince the world that we are a bunch of nice guys but to advance American interests. And sometimes interests other than fostering democratic government must take priority. During the Cold War, we had to make nice with some very unsavory regimes.

What happened in Egypt on July 5 was as clearly a coup as anything could be. The Egyptian military, employing force majeure, overthrew the first democratically elected government in Egyptian history and took the president into custody, where he remains, incommunicado. If that wasn’t a coup, whatever could be? But for valid reasons of state, the Obama administration has been flatly refusing to call a coup a coup. To be sure, the Morsi government had been democratically elected, but so had Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933. And, like the Nazis, once in office, the Morsi government immediately began subverting democracy at every turn. Given what we know now, would we have objected to the Wehrmacht giving Hitler the boot in 1934? It would have been a coup, for sure, but thank God for it. After all, both Hitler and Morsi were, in effect, carrying out their own coups d’état from within.

Politicians have often had to be semantically artful. In 1941, as FDR slowly maneuvered the country into joining the allies in a war the country did not want to fight but which Roosevelt knew had to be fought, he agreed to take over the defense of Iceland from the hard-pressed British. But he had a problem: he had promised the American people he would not station U.S. forces outside North America.  What to do? Simple: Roosevelt just declared that Iceland was actually part of North America. It was geographically doubtful to say the least, but politically sound.

The Obama administration is anything but artful when it comes to foreign policy. They have managed to alienate just about every political faction in Egypt. But they’re right not to call a coup a coup in this case.

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Egypt’s Return to Military Rule

Governments, understandably, have a history of not tolerating large sit-ins occupying a substantial area in the middle of their capital. But attempts to end such sit-ins have a way of turning out badly. It was not just the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing in 1989 that ended in a bloodbath. On a lesser level there was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s heavy-handed dispersal of the Bonus Army, made up of World War I veterans, in Washington in 1932, which forever sullied his image.

Now comes the Egyptian army’s dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo, an attack which has left at least 95 dead (a toll that is certain to grow) and led Mohamed ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s vice presidents, to resign in protest. ElBaradei’s departure from the government, to which he was providing a fig leaf of civil legitimacy, may prove especially significant because it is making the regime in Cairo look increasingly not like a transitional military regime but a permanent military regime.

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Governments, understandably, have a history of not tolerating large sit-ins occupying a substantial area in the middle of their capital. But attempts to end such sit-ins have a way of turning out badly. It was not just the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing in 1989 that ended in a bloodbath. On a lesser level there was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s heavy-handed dispersal of the Bonus Army, made up of World War I veterans, in Washington in 1932, which forever sullied his image.

Now comes the Egyptian army’s dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo, an attack which has left at least 95 dead (a toll that is certain to grow) and led Mohamed ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s vice presidents, to resign in protest. ElBaradei’s departure from the government, to which he was providing a fig leaf of civil legitimacy, may prove especially significant because it is making the regime in Cairo look increasingly not like a transitional military regime but a permanent military regime.

This impression is heightened by the fact that 19 out of 25 of the provincial governors just named to office yesterday are generals. Moreover, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who led the military coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi (now being held at a secret site and likely to be tried on treason charges), has not ruled out running for president himself.

It is looking increasingly as if very little has changed since Hosni Mubarak was toppled–except the name of the general in charge. Egypt appears to be returning to military rule, in ways both good (increased cooperation with Israel in rooting out security threats) and bad (increased repression and the heightened risk of a civil war). If this is the way Egypt’s military goes about restoring “democracy,” I would hate to see how it imposes dictatorship.

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The Wrong “Coup” Debate

The Obama administration endured some mockery when it tried to refer to antiterror efforts as “overseas contingency operations” and terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters.” But there have been far worse symptoms of the same affliction, such as when Susan Rice, at the time working in the Clinton administration, reportedly worried about calling the Rwandan genocide a “genocide,” reasoning that “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?”

Euphemism and terminology are again at the forefront of foreign-policy decision making, this time, as Max referenced yesterday, with regard to whether the U.S. should continue supplying Egypt with military and economic aid. If you support continuing the aid but don’t want to cross the U.S. law that says the Egyptian coup would automatically trigger a suspension of aid, what are your options? The first is to do what the Obama administration is doing, and not call it a coup. But some congressional Republicans have a second idea, according to Reuters:

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The Obama administration endured some mockery when it tried to refer to antiterror efforts as “overseas contingency operations” and terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters.” But there have been far worse symptoms of the same affliction, such as when Susan Rice, at the time working in the Clinton administration, reportedly worried about calling the Rwandan genocide a “genocide,” reasoning that “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?”

Euphemism and terminology are again at the forefront of foreign-policy decision making, this time, as Max referenced yesterday, with regard to whether the U.S. should continue supplying Egypt with military and economic aid. If you support continuing the aid but don’t want to cross the U.S. law that says the Egyptian coup would automatically trigger a suspension of aid, what are your options? The first is to do what the Obama administration is doing, and not call it a coup. But some congressional Republicans have a second idea, according to Reuters:

U.S. lawmakers will begin to vote as soon as next week on legislation that could continue aid to Egypt even if the Obama administration determines that the ouster of elected President Mohamed Mursi was a military coup, lawmakers and aides said on Thursday….

Republican U.S. Representative Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House of Representatives subcommittee in charge of the aid, said her panel could consider allowing more flexibility, such as language that would allow the aid to continue if doing so were deemed to be in the U.S. national security interest.

Granger said she is not considering changing the coup language but that it was possible for Congress to change it to make it more flexible.

“There is not a waiver (provision) in the coup legislation,” Granger told Reuters in an interview. “That could be changed, however, if the Congress says we are going to allow a waiver.”

This may sound like an easy out, but there are drawbacks. Giving the president the power to waive foreign-policy laws when he doesn’t want to follow them renders the law itself extraneous: laws, like ethical principles, prove their worth when they are difficult to heed. The granting of a waiver for a specific purpose may sound limited, but it sets a precedent that will be repeated. Whether something is in the nation’s interest or constitutes a crisis is open to interpretation.

But leaving the law as-is presents its own problems, not least of which is that our officials begin to sound ridiculous by never calling anything by its name. That eventually takes its toll on policy as well, because it renders governance in Orwellian terms and habituates the practice of intentionally misleading the public. And the president is the elected commander in chief and deserves a certain amount of deference in conducting foreign policy according to his convictions.

But the Obama administration has more to worry about with perceived neutrality than whether to call this a coup. Supporters of the administration’s foreign policy have defended Obama on realist grounds that America should work with whomever comes out on top of the power struggle in Egypt rather than try to influence the outcome. When the Arab Spring first swept through Egypt, the administration waited for the dust to settle and then accepted the facts on the ground. But the military’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi has signaled that Egypt is in the midst of something far more dangerous and unstable than a simple power struggle. It seems to have entered a cycle of unrest and popular rebellion. The dust just won’t settle.

That’s why, strategically, whether the administration calls Morsi’s overthrow a “coup” is beside the point. If Obama calls it a coup, he will appear to side with Morsi. If he doesn’t, he will appear to side with the military. Suspending the aid now will send the wrong signal, because whatever the president does will be seen as a response to the events that immediately preceded it. He needn’t be seen as for or against the military, but he ought to be clearly opposed to perpetual military rule or antidemocratic backsliding. The point, then, is not about identifying coups, but preventing them and the conditions in which they materialize.

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Leverage, Don’t End, Aid to Egypt

Three of the foreign policy analysts I esteem the most–Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, and John McCain–argue that Egypt has just experienced a military coup and accordingly under U.S. law the Obama administration must suspend military aid until constitutional governance is restored.

They are clearly right that Egypt has experienced a military coup, albeit a popular coup. They are right, too, about the danger of indefinite military rule. But for the time being, at least, I believe the dangers of cutting off aid outweigh the benefits of doing so. Indeed it is hard to think of any immediate benefit, since an aid cut-off would hardly compel the generals to give up power.

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Three of the foreign policy analysts I esteem the most–Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, and John McCain–argue that Egypt has just experienced a military coup and accordingly under U.S. law the Obama administration must suspend military aid until constitutional governance is restored.

They are clearly right that Egypt has experienced a military coup, albeit a popular coup. They are right, too, about the danger of indefinite military rule. But for the time being, at least, I believe the dangers of cutting off aid outweigh the benefits of doing so. Indeed it is hard to think of any immediate benefit, since an aid cut-off would hardly compel the generals to give up power.

The new government in Cairo has just received $8 billion in pledges from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with no strings attached. That far outweighs the $1.5 billion a year that the U.S. provides. All that an American aid cutoff at this point would achieve would be to alienate the Egyptian military and–more importantly–the opposition parties which backed Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.

Liberal Egyptians are already convinced that the U.S. is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood because of the failure of President Obama and his ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, to speak out forcefully against Morsi’s illegal power grab while in the presidency. An aid cutoff now, after Morsi has been overthrown, would only serve to completely alienate our natural allies without winning over the Muslim Brotherhood, which is ideologically opposed to the United States and always will be. An aid cutoff would also take away a major reason for Egypt to abide by the Camp David Accords, which it did even while Morsi was in power. Thus President Obama is right to avoid using the “c” word in public, no matter how much rhetorical legerdemain is required to avoid speaking honestly about what has transpired in Egypt.

Rather than cut off aid, the U.S. should use the leverage that the aid gives us to push for a better long-term outcome that stresses the content of democracy–rule of law, free media, vibrant opposition parties–rather than simply a winner-takes-all vote, which is how Morsi saw his slim electoral mandate. Behind the scenes, the U.S. should be working to help the more liberal parties so that, when the next election comes, they will be able to beat the Muslim Brotherhood fair and square. (For more details of what I have in mind, see this Policy Innovation Memo co-authored with Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution, outlining the need to reinvigorate the U.S. government’s capacity for political warfare.)

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Obama’s Claims Nothing But Dust in Wind

According to news reports, more than 50 people were killed on Monday when demonstrators enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist president clashed with Egyptian forces. It was the deadliest incident since Mohamed Morsi’s removal. In addition to the dead, hundreds of Egyptians were wounded.

So Egypt, the most important Arab nation in the world, is in turmoil. President Obama, meanwhile, has succeeded in alienating virtually every faction (both the pro- and anti-Morsi elements within Egypt feel betrayed by the United States). Having the Egyptian military depose from power the Muslim Brotherhood might have been the best of some very bad options. But it isn’t optimal by any means. The effect of the coup may well be to destabilize Egypt for years, it might further radicalize the Brotherhood, and a more fundamentalist Islamist faction within Egypt, the Salafist/Al Nour party, is emerging as political kingmakers.

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According to news reports, more than 50 people were killed on Monday when demonstrators enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist president clashed with Egyptian forces. It was the deadliest incident since Mohamed Morsi’s removal. In addition to the dead, hundreds of Egyptians were wounded.

So Egypt, the most important Arab nation in the world, is in turmoil. President Obama, meanwhile, has succeeded in alienating virtually every faction (both the pro- and anti-Morsi elements within Egypt feel betrayed by the United States). Having the Egyptian military depose from power the Muslim Brotherhood might have been the best of some very bad options. But it isn’t optimal by any means. The effect of the coup may well be to destabilize Egypt for years, it might further radicalize the Brotherhood, and a more fundamentalist Islamist faction within Egypt, the Salafist/Al Nour party, is emerging as political kingmakers.

But the turmoil in Egypt shouldn’t obscure the disaster that is unfolding in Syria, where a brutal civil war has killed upwards of 100,000 people, displaced millions more, and is destabilizing traditional American allies like Jordan, strengthening both Iran and Hezbollah and allowing Russia to establish a greater presence in the Middle East. And Syria, in turn, should not distract us from the rising authoritarian rule and Islamist tendencies of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the further destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the increasing violence and instability in Iraq, the worrisome developments in Afghanistan, and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Libya, to name just a few other world hotspots.

There are many different ways to measure the multiplying failures of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but one good place to start is to read the president’s June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, where he pledged a “new beginning” between America and the Arab/Islamic world. It’s very instructive (and depressing) to be reminded of what Mr. Obama promised versus what has unfolded on his watch.

A second place to go is to Vali Nasr’s book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat. Nasr, who is now dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, served in the Obama administration for two years. His book lays out a highly critical case against the president’s foreign policy–including why Obama’s purposeful retreat from the Middle East has been a grave error that has, among other things, given the strategic advantage to China. In Nasr’s words:

America – dragged by Europeans into ending butchery in Libya, abandoning Afghanistan to an uncertain future, resisting a leadership role in ending the massacre of civilians in Syria, and then rolling back its commitments to the region to “pivot” to Asia – hardly looks indispensable.

In the cocoon of our public debate Obama gets high marks on foreign policy. That is because his policies’ principal aim is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion – he has done more of the things that people want and fewer o f the things we have to do that may be unpopular. To our allies, however, our constant tactical maneuvers don’t add up to a coherent strategy or a vision of global leadership. Gone is the exuberant American desire to lead the world. In its place there is the image of a superpower tired of the world and in retreat, most visibility from the one area of the world where it has been most intensely engaged. That impression serves neither America’s long-run interest nor stability around the world.

But even if you grant all that, there is something more that needs to be said–something that everyone who serves in high positions in the federal government, and especially in the White House, eventually learns. It is that governing is more difficult than giving speeches; that the world is complicated and untidy; and that often events are simply beyond the capacity of America to shape.

Before he became president, Barack Obama spoke as if the powers of the office, at least with him at the helm, would be nearly limitless. He would halt the rise of the oceans and remake the world. All the problems that existed were the responsibility of his predecessor. If Obama were elected, nations would bend to his will and leaders would bend to his ways. He was, we were assured, a world-historical figure, a once-in-a-generation leader, even a Lincoln-like one. 

It turns out Mr. Obama’s claims were nothing more than dust in the wind. He has been humbled by events and is now at the mercy of them. Some of this is certainly due to his own ineptness; some of it is also due to forces beyond his control. A more self-aware individual would have been wiser about all this before he took office. But now he knows his limitations. And so do we.

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Obama’s Second Chance on Egypt

In the past year, as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government appeared set to take that country down the road to Islamist despotism, there were no signs that the Obama administration had any second thoughts about its role in these events. With the now deposed President Mohamed Morsi assuming dictatorial powers in the fashion of Hosni Mubarak, there was no acknowledgement that Obama’s eagerness to dump the former dictator might have been a mistake. Nor was there any indication that the president understood that the aggressive manner with which the U.S. pressured the Egyptian military to allow the Brotherhood to take power last year and the way our ambassador to Cairo seemed to cozy up to Morsi might not have been the smartest policy.

But almost miraculously after American policies had played a small but crucial role in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to seize total power in the world’s most populous Arab country, President Obama has received a rare but precious gift: a second chance. The massive demonstrations protesting Morsi’s misrule that led to a military coup have given the president a chance to reboot American policy toward Egypt in a manner that could make it clear the U.S. priority is ensuring stability and stopping the Islamists. The question is, will he take advantage of this chance or will he, by pressuring the military and demonstrating ambivalence toward the possibility of a Brotherhood comeback, squander another opportunity to help nudge Egypt in the right direction?

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In the past year, as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government appeared set to take that country down the road to Islamist despotism, there were no signs that the Obama administration had any second thoughts about its role in these events. With the now deposed President Mohamed Morsi assuming dictatorial powers in the fashion of Hosni Mubarak, there was no acknowledgement that Obama’s eagerness to dump the former dictator might have been a mistake. Nor was there any indication that the president understood that the aggressive manner with which the U.S. pressured the Egyptian military to allow the Brotherhood to take power last year and the way our ambassador to Cairo seemed to cozy up to Morsi might not have been the smartest policy.

But almost miraculously after American policies had played a small but crucial role in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to seize total power in the world’s most populous Arab country, President Obama has received a rare but precious gift: a second chance. The massive demonstrations protesting Morsi’s misrule that led to a military coup have given the president a chance to reboot American policy toward Egypt in a manner that could make it clear the U.S. priority is ensuring stability and stopping the Islamists. The question is, will he take advantage of this chance or will he, by pressuring the military and demonstrating ambivalence toward the possibility of a Brotherhood comeback, squander another opportunity to help nudge Egypt in the right direction?

Like many in the chattering classes that have commented on the situation in Egypt, the Obama administration seems to have mixed feelings about what happened in Cairo last week. After a year of embracing the Brotherhood government, the U.S. quickly bailed on it as Morsi’s excesses made his fall inevitable. But there is also a sense that the coup could potentially discredit not only the cause of democracy but allow America’s critics and enemies to once again associate the United States with authoritarian governments. But while we should always worry about the false perception that democracy is only suited to the West, there should be no doubt about where America’s sympathies are when it comes to a struggle between Islamism and its foes.

The problem with so much of what has been said in the past few days about Egypt is the misperception that what was going on in Cairo before the coup was somehow more democratic than what happened after it. It cannot be repeated too often that there is more to democracy than merely holding an election that enabled the most organized faction to seize power even if it is fundamentally opposed to democracy. That was exactly what occurred in Egypt in the last year as the Brotherhood won a series of votes that put it in a position to start a process by which it could ensure that its power would never be challenged again. Understood in that context, the coup wasn’t so much a putsch as it was a last ditch effort to save the country from drifting into a Brotherhood dictatorship that could not be undone by democratic means.

Thus, rather than setting deadlines or delivering ultimatums to the interim government that has replaced Morsi and his crew, the United States should be demonstrating that it will do whatever it can to help the military snuff out the threat of Islamist violence and then to proceed to replace Morsi with a more competent government. In the absence of a consensus about democratic values, democracy is impossible and that is the case in Egypt right now. Americans should have no illusions that what will follow Morsi will be Jeffersonian democracy or even a reasonably attractive facsimile. But it can be better than Mubarak. That should be enough for Obama.

Rather than act as if something terrible has happened, we need to acknowledge that the Brotherhood’s fall is a good thing for both Egypt and the United States. That may not win over the majority of Egyptians who not unreasonably concluded that Obama was supportive of the Brotherhood, but it will begin the process by which that awful image can be improved. But if, instead, President Obama repeats the mistakes he made in the past two years and concentrates his fire on the military in the coming days and weeks and forces them to step back from measures intended to ensure that the Brotherhood cannot institute a rebellion to reinstate Morsi, he will have squandered the second chance that fate has given him. 

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Does Turkey Know What Backward Is?

It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

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It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

The turning point in Mr. Morsi’s presidency came on Nov. 22, when he asserted unchecked executive authority through a constitutional declaration and, weeks later, rammed an Islamist constitution through to ratification. When mass protests erupted in response, Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues dispatched Brotherhood cadres to attack the protesters, and seven people were killed in the fighting.

It seems strange to have Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Hüseyin Çelik, or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lecture on backwardness. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for the Turkish triumvirate to consider what backward really means:

What happened in Egypt was unfortunate, but sometimes such actions are a last resort when leaders dispense with the rule of law, forget their own accountability to the public, and believe they can undertake authoritarianism without consequence. When Egypt holds new elections, let us hope the process of democratization can continue. In the meantime, let us hope that the Turkish government recognizes that it is Turkey that has moved backward, away from the 21st century and headlong into the past.

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America’s Egypt Policy After Morsi

One of the oddities that confront makers of American foreign policy is that it is easier to deal with avowed enemies rather than wayward friends. Policy toward Iran or Syria or North Korea is more straightforward than policy toward Pakistan, Bahrain, or Egypt–all avowed American allies whose actions (suppressing dissent in the case of Egypt and Bahrain, supporting jihadist groups in the case of Pakistan) cause consternation in Washington. How far do we go to signal American displeasure and risk the strategic benefits we derive from our relationships with these states?

That question has been in sharp relief during the course of the Egyptian revolution/coup (revolucoup?) this week. The U.S. has a stake in promoting democracy in Egypt which, over the long run, is likely to make the country more stable and prosperous–but also a major stake in keeping Egypt committed to the Western camp and out of the clutches of Islamists. Those goals collided when the Egyptian armed forces–and millions of ordinary Egyptians–decided that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi was heading in an authoritarian–and, just as important, incompetent–direction. So now the army has deposed Morsi. He and hundreds of other Brotherhood leaders appear to be under arrest and Egypt’s future is more uncertain than ever.

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One of the oddities that confront makers of American foreign policy is that it is easier to deal with avowed enemies rather than wayward friends. Policy toward Iran or Syria or North Korea is more straightforward than policy toward Pakistan, Bahrain, or Egypt–all avowed American allies whose actions (suppressing dissent in the case of Egypt and Bahrain, supporting jihadist groups in the case of Pakistan) cause consternation in Washington. How far do we go to signal American displeasure and risk the strategic benefits we derive from our relationships with these states?

That question has been in sharp relief during the course of the Egyptian revolution/coup (revolucoup?) this week. The U.S. has a stake in promoting democracy in Egypt which, over the long run, is likely to make the country more stable and prosperous–but also a major stake in keeping Egypt committed to the Western camp and out of the clutches of Islamists. Those goals collided when the Egyptian armed forces–and millions of ordinary Egyptians–decided that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi was heading in an authoritarian–and, just as important, incompetent–direction. So now the army has deposed Morsi. He and hundreds of other Brotherhood leaders appear to be under arrest and Egypt’s future is more uncertain than ever.

The new interim government has promised to hold elections–but what if the Brotherhood wins the next round of balloting? That is not inconceivable, given the Brotherhood’s organizational strength and popularity in rural areas, notwithstanding the disastrous consequences of its recent period in power. Is the Brotherhood to be disqualified from the electoral process? If so, that would be a powerful inducement to Islamists, not only in Egypt but throughout the Muslim world, to give up any commitment to seeking power through peaceful means; it could cause many to embrace the more violent path urged by al-Qaeda and its ilk. That is a definite danger of the military stepping in. On the other hand, if the military didn’t step in, there would have been a danger that the Brotherhood would never be dislodged from power.

In confronting these difficult dilemmas, American policymakers would be well-advised not to outsmart themselves. There is always a temptation in Washington to try subtle stratagems that backfire in practice. That, in fact, is what has happened in Egypt where the Obama administration has managed to alienate both the Brotherhood and its adversaries. The anti-Islamist faction is mad at Washington because of seeming U.S. support for Morsi while in power–an impression furthered by U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson’s ill-advised remarks which seemed to be critical of coup plotters (understandable) while uncritical of the Morsi regime’s undemocratic excesses (inexcusable). Now the Brotherhood is mad at Washington too because of the impression that the U.S. winked at its overthrow.

Obama and his aides would be well advised to return to first principles–where they should have been to begin with. They need to make clear their support for liberal democracy, stressing the importance not just of elections but of checks and balances of the kind that Morsi disregarded while in power. The American ability to affect the outcome is admittedly limited–the only major leverage we have is the military aid we provide to the Egyptian army and that is unlikely to be cut off because it is tied to the continuation of the Camp David Accords. But even if Washington can’t guide events, it should at least make clear its commitment to the principles on which the United States itself is founded–and which we celebrated just yesterday.

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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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Morsi’s Brazen Message to Obama

After Hosni Mubarak’s reign finally ended there was the immediate concern that the army would work with the Muslim Brotherhood to hold early elections that would help them consolidate power. And of course, that is exactly what happened. But it seemed not only expected but inevitable, because Mubarak’s legacy was a barren political environment in which only the Brotherhood had the organization and manpower to step into the vacuum.

One (fair) criticism of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy is that it relied too much on elections when the institutions of civil society were not yet in place. That was the case when the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president and he had no civil society to compete with. And he, unsurprisingly, would like to keep it that way. Today an Egyptian court handed down a guilty verdict to at least 16 Americans among 43 NGO workers accused of subverting the government. The New York Times reports:

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After Hosni Mubarak’s reign finally ended there was the immediate concern that the army would work with the Muslim Brotherhood to hold early elections that would help them consolidate power. And of course, that is exactly what happened. But it seemed not only expected but inevitable, because Mubarak’s legacy was a barren political environment in which only the Brotherhood had the organization and manpower to step into the vacuum.

One (fair) criticism of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy is that it relied too much on elections when the institutions of civil society were not yet in place. That was the case when the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president and he had no civil society to compete with. And he, unsurprisingly, would like to keep it that way. Today an Egyptian court handed down a guilty verdict to at least 16 Americans among 43 NGO workers accused of subverting the government. The New York Times reports:

Most of the Americans were sentenced in absentia because they had long left the country, including Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received a five-year jail term.

The only American defendant still in Egypt was Robert Becker, who was sentenced to two years. Becker has maintained that his refusal to flee Egypt with fellow Americans who were in the country at the time of the crackdown on nonprofit groups was to show solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues….

The verdict, read out by judge Makram Awad, also ordered the closure of the offices and seizure of the assets in Egypt belonging to the U.S. nonprofit groups as well as one German organization for which the defendants worked. These are the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, a center for training journalists, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The fact that most of the Americans were able to leave the country before the verdict and sentencing were announced is an indication that the point wasn’t to actually jail Americans as much as it was to close NGOs and stop any development of Egyptian civil society in its tracks.

The charges stem from the military-backed caretaker government in the wake of Mubarak’s fall. But it’s exactly the message Morsi would like to send. Last week, Morsi presented to the Egyptian senate his proposed law tightening regulations on NGOs which would subject groups’ funding to the Morsi government’s approval. Human rights groups objected to the law saying it would enable Morsi to stop the flow of funding to groups he doesn’t like under the guise of federal regulation.

It is not meant to even get to that point, of course, as the law is a signal to Morsi’s critics to cool it–as is the coincidentally-timed verdict. “The NGO law, if anything, confirms the view of the NGOs that we’ve had in this trial,” the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch told the Wall Street Journal. “It views NGOs operating in Egypt as potential foreign agents.”

The Journal also reports: “Mr. Shaheed, the NGO attorney, said he had expected the judge to eventually acquit all 43 NGO workers because of the politicized nature of the case.” In other words, he didn’t think the Egyptian court would convict the son of a member of President Obama’s Cabinet after a sham trial on trumped-up charges, considering the fact that Egypt depends so heavily on American aid. The sheer brazenness of it caught him by surprise. The Journal didn’t ask Shaheed whether he was also surprised by Morsi’s NGO law, introduced within days of the court verdict to make sure the West got the message.

And what message will Obama send back to Morsi? The Times reminds readers not only of the $1 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid from the U.S. to Egypt each year, but also that American “leverage can be decisive in determining whether the International Monetary Fund gives Egypt a $4.8 billion loan to kick start its ailing economy. While the proposed loan can only meet some of Egypt’s pressing needs, it would unlock billions of dollars in pledged aid by Gulf Arab nations and Europe.”

While the court ruling was an unnecessary insult to the countries involved, Morsi’s anti-civil society law is more significant to U.S.-Egyptian relations and more relevant to what the U.S. decides to do with all that money it was planning to hand over to Morsi. That’s because while the court case stemmed from a post-Mubarak incident tied to the military’s transitional rule, the crackdown on civil society is designed to stymie political freedom and prevent the roots of democracy from ever taking hold.

That’s something for Obama to consider going forward. Morsi’s consolidated power is not a limited emergency measure to keep order from crumbling into anarchy. It’s an expression of his goal to ensure Egyptians never attain the freedom and opportunity they were denied under Mubarak. “Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years,” Obama said when Mubarak stepped down. “But over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights.” Those are rights they won’t get if Morsi gets his way–a point Egypt’s new strongman is trying to make as clear as possible.

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Morsi’s Egypt and the Lessons of History

As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

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As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

There have been calls from both right and left to simply let tyrannical Islamist governments fail on their own, and thus naturally ebb away from the scene. The problem with this advice is that, as Iran and Hamas have shown, it’s actually quite difficult for those living under the thumb of Islamist tyranny to get rid of such governments once they have consolidated power whether they successfully govern their country or not. The case of Hamas is instructive since they are an offshoot of the same movement that now governs their Egyptian neighbors, and not only did Hamas end elections in Gaza after taking power but their strength has also been at the root of Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to hold elections in the West Bank. Tyranny can be contagious, even after its harmfulness is exposed.

We certainly have limited influence on such events, but there’s no reason not to use what influence we have here, especially with regard to foreign aid. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, already clear about his anti-Semitism and consolidation of power, is now jailing his critics. That’s why, as the Carnegie Endowment’s Thomas Carothers and Nathan Brown write today in the Washington Post, the U.S. policy of “respecting” Egypt’s new Islamist rulers has outlived any justification. It’s also, they note acidly, not actually respectful of Islamists:

Putting this message into practice will require much sharper, clearer public responses by the White House and State Department to violations of basic democratic and rule-of-law norms. It will mean an end to justifying the Brotherhood’s negative political steps. And the United States should indicate that the possibility of new aid is not isolated from domestic Egyptian political realities.

This tougher line should not be coupled with an embrace of the opposition. U.S. policy should be based on firm support of core democratic principles, not on playing favorites.

Recalibrating the current policy line will require careful nuance. It has to be clear that the United States is not turning against the Brotherhood but is siding more decisively with democracy. The Obama administration must also make it well known to all that it adamantly opposes any military intervention in Egypt’s politics. The United States is understandably sensitive about being accused of an anti-Islamist stance in an Arab world roiling with Islamist activism. Yet showing that Washington is serious about democratic standards with new Islamist actors in power is ultimately a greater sign of respect for them than excusing their shortcomings and lowering our expectations.

This is an argument that has been made repeatedly in the context of the left’s refusal to hold Palestinians accountable for building state institutions and renouncing terrorism, and it applies here as well. Treating the Abbas or Morsi governments as if they are incapable of upholding basic moral standards is supremely condescending, what is often referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations.  

And even tacit approval of such behavior won’t exist in a vacuum. It will signal to aspiring dictators–whether Islamist or not–that it doesn’t matter how they seize power or wield it once in office. If the American government is too consumed by a fear of insulting the oppressors to stick up for the oppressed, the world will get more of both.

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“Explanations” of Islamic Jew-Hatred Reveal Media’s Own Prejudices

The Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, as I noted last week, is often simply ignored by the journalists and academics who should be bringing it to public attention. But no less troubling is the fact that on the rare occasions when they do report it, they frequently try to explain it away. These “explanations” offer little insight into the actual sources of Muslim Jew-hatred. But they offer a very disturbing insight into opinion leaders’ motives in concealing this hatred.

A good example is an article published by the New York Times in January that described two cases in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made virulently anti-Semitic remarks. In one, he said Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists; in another, he described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”

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The Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, as I noted last week, is often simply ignored by the journalists and academics who should be bringing it to public attention. But no less troubling is the fact that on the rare occasions when they do report it, they frequently try to explain it away. These “explanations” offer little insight into the actual sources of Muslim Jew-hatred. But they offer a very disturbing insight into opinion leaders’ motives in concealing this hatred.

A good example is an article published by the New York Times in January that described two cases in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made virulently anti-Semitic remarks. In one, he said Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists; in another, he described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”

Both of these statements, wrote reporter David Kirkpatrick, “date back to 2010, when anti-Israeli sentiment was running high after a three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza the previous year.”

The obvious implication for readers who don’t have the dates of every Mideast war at their fingertips is that the conflict probably took place in late 2009, while Morsi’s comments were made in early 2010; hence these were anguished outbursts made in the first raw throes of grief–a time when nobody should be judged too harshly for violent language. Kirkpatrick even strengthened that impression by erroneously dating both speeches to “early 2010,” when in fact, as a subsequent correction noted, one was made in September of that year.

But even without this error, the implication is ridiculous, because the aforementioned conflict ended in January 2009–which Kirkpatrick, as the Times’s Cairo bureau chief, should certainly have known. In other words, these speeches were made at least a full year after the war ended, and in one case, almost two years later. Thus, far from reflecting the first raw throes of grief, they were the deliberate product of more than a year’s reflection. As such, either they genuinely represented the deepest beliefs of the man who is now Egypt’s president, or they were cynically calculated to appeal to Morsi’s audience–an equally disturbing possibility.

Far more disturbing than what this says about Egyptian prejudices, however, is what it says about those of Kirkpatrick and his editors at the Times–because neither he nor they evidently saw any problem in “explaining” Morsi’s vile anti-Semitism on the grounds that he was still overset by grief (“anti-Israel sentiment was running high”) over a war that ended more than a year earlier. In short, like too many other journalists, Kirkpatrick and his editors are convinced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all evil in the Middle East, and push that theory on their readers.

Unfortunately, this theory isn’t supported by the facts: As one Egyptian cleric helpfully explained, Jews “aren’t our enemies because they occupy Palestine; they would be our enemies even if they had not occupied anything.” And if readers were made aware of the true extent of Islamic Jew-hatred, they might well figure that out for themselves.

One can’t help suspecting that this is precisely why many journalists prefer to let this hatred go unreported: Facts that don’t fit their pet theory of Israel’s guilt are better left unmentioned.

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Ignoring Jew-Hatred in the Islamic World

Western opinion leaders too often ignore the Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, argues a new book reviewed recently in The Jerusalem Report. It’s unfortunate that Tibor Krausz’s review is behind a paywall, since it’s a must-read for anyone who doesn’t plan to read the full book: In example after chilling example, it demonstrates the depth and extent of this Jew-hatred, while also showing that it has nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.” In a televised sermon in 2009, for instance, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya’qub said, “If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not … The Jews are infidels not because I say so but because Allah does… They aren’t our enemies because they occupy Palestine; they would be our enemies even if they had not occupied anything.”

But what moved Neil Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Patterson University, to write The Sons of Pigs and Apes wasn’t merely the existence of this hatred; rather, Krausz noted, it was his dismay over “what he sees as a blind spot — ‘a conspiracy of silence’ — among Western academics, policymakers and journalists about the extent of Muslim anti-Semitism.” Policymakers may not actually belong in this list; I suspect many are genuinely ignorant about this hatred. But if they are, it’s because of this “conspiracy of silence”: The journalists and academics whose job it is to inform them consistently fail to do so.

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Western opinion leaders too often ignore the Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, argues a new book reviewed recently in The Jerusalem Report. It’s unfortunate that Tibor Krausz’s review is behind a paywall, since it’s a must-read for anyone who doesn’t plan to read the full book: In example after chilling example, it demonstrates the depth and extent of this Jew-hatred, while also showing that it has nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.” In a televised sermon in 2009, for instance, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya’qub said, “If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not … The Jews are infidels not because I say so but because Allah does… They aren’t our enemies because they occupy Palestine; they would be our enemies even if they had not occupied anything.”

But what moved Neil Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Patterson University, to write The Sons of Pigs and Apes wasn’t merely the existence of this hatred; rather, Krausz noted, it was his dismay over “what he sees as a blind spot — ‘a conspiracy of silence’ — among Western academics, policymakers and journalists about the extent of Muslim anti-Semitism.” Policymakers may not actually belong in this list; I suspect many are genuinely ignorant about this hatred. But if they are, it’s because of this “conspiracy of silence”: The journalists and academics whose job it is to inform them consistently fail to do so.

A salient example occurred in January, when MEMRI released a video of a 2010 television interview given by Mohamed Morsi, today the president of Egypt. In it, Morsi referred to “Zionists” (a term, as the continuation of the interview made clear, that he considers interchangeable with “Jews”) as “descendants of apes and pigs.” This bombshell was ignored by the mainstream media until one courageous Forbes journalist launched a crusade: He contacted numerous leading news outlets to ask why they didn’t consider it newsworthy that a recipient of billions in American aid was spouting anti-Semitic incitement, then published a story documenting their nonresponse. Only then did the New York Times finally run the story, after which other major media outlets followed suit (the Times claimed its story had nothing to do with Richard Behar’s crusade; I confess to skepticism).

But even once the story ran, it left readers ignorant of the scope of the problem. Granted, they now knew that one individual had made anti-Semitic slurs, but every country has such individuals. What they didn’t know is that Morsi is the Egyptian norm rather than the exception. They didn’t know, for instance, that just days after this story broke, a senior Morsi aide called the Holocaust a “myth” that America “invented” to justify World War II, and claimed the six million Jews Hitler slaughtered really just moved to the U.S. Or that two months earlier, the head of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, Mohammed Badie, called for jihad against Israel, after having previously called Israel’s creation “the worst catastrophe ever to befall the peoples of the world.” Or about Ya’qub’s televised sermon. And so on.

Nor did they know that such incitement is routine throughout the Islamic world, even in “moderate” U.S. allies like Turkey or Jordan.

For people to know, it would have to be reported on a regular basis. But it isn’t. So policymakers remain blithely ignorant of a defining fact of Middle Eastern life. And then we wonder why they so often get the Middle East wrong.

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Keep U.S.-Egypt Joint Exercises on Ice

I was surprised to hear recently from deploying U.S. troops that among their deployment plans was participation in Bright Star, the once-annual U.S.-Egypt military exercise delayed as a result of the political turmoil that led to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In February, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson met to discuss the resumption of Bright Star with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s appointee.

In recent weeks, Sisi has apparently been turning a blind eye as the Muslim Brotherhood sends its own as cadets into Egypt’s military academy in an effort to change the army’s character. The army has also proven itself ineffective as Islamists target Christians in what might best be described as pogroms.

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I was surprised to hear recently from deploying U.S. troops that among their deployment plans was participation in Bright Star, the once-annual U.S.-Egypt military exercise delayed as a result of the political turmoil that led to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In February, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson met to discuss the resumption of Bright Star with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s appointee.

In recent weeks, Sisi has apparently been turning a blind eye as the Muslim Brotherhood sends its own as cadets into Egypt’s military academy in an effort to change the army’s character. The army has also proven itself ineffective as Islamists target Christians in what might best be described as pogroms.

Ties between military officers can be incredibly important, especially when it comes to de-escalating crises. During the 1999 Kargil Crisis—which for a short time appeared could spark a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan—it was the personal ties between American and Pakistani officers more than formal diplomacy that helped calm the situation.

Still, prominent exercises as Bright Star often imply a greater partnership than Egypt deserves. As Egypt’s military changes, it increasingly poses a threat to its neighbors and its own people. Bilateral military ties might continue with occasional meetings, but it is both too early and unwise for Egypt to host Bright Star. Let us hope Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel might spend the money the Pentagon now plans to expend on Egypt instead on the upkeep and training of U.S. forces and equipment.

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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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Obama Subsidizes Egyptian War on Women

The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

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The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

As the Times details, Morsi’s governing party has several bones to pick with what might otherwise be considered an anodyne resolution condemning violence against women.

According to the Brotherhood, men should not be liable to being charged with the rape of their waves or be subjected to harsh punishment if they were called to account. They also say that women should not have equal rights of inheritance or be allowed to work, travel or use contraception without their husband’s permission.

Given that the group believes women are generally at fault when they are beaten by their husbands, this is hardly a surprise.

Morsi’s official spokesperson, who is still trying to convince the Western press that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization that has no intention of subjecting the entire nation to Islamist interpretations of religious law, tried to distance the Egyptian leader from his party’s declaration. But Egyptians understand which way the wind is blowing.

That the Brotherhood would issues such a salvo against women’s rights right at the time when the regime is encountering increased resistance to its rule and with new parliamentary elections in doubt is telling. Rather than moderate their stands, they are doubling down on their effort to use their newly acquired power not just to dominate every branch of the government but to transform society in their own image.

Part of the Brotherhood’s confidence stems from their belief that there is virtually nothing they can do that would prompt President Obama to cut off the more than $2 billion in U.S. aid that the country continues to receive. The administration has bought into the idea that, as Vice President Biden claimed last week in his speech to the AIPAC conference, there is no alternative to engagement with Morsi and his crowd. But what non-Islamist Egyptians are discovering is that bolstering the regime with the hundreds of millions more in U.S. funds, such as the big check Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Cairo earlier this month, is only worsening the situation.

Unlike the Obama re-election campaign theme, the Brotherhood’s war on women is not a partisan farce aimed at demonizing opponents but a genuine wave of repression that will set back human rights in that country. That the same administration that was re-elected in part because of its pro-women policies and which trumpeted its concerns for women’s rights abroad is subsidizing a regime that oppresses women in this fashion is more than merely hypocritical. It is an indictment of a president and a State Department that have lost their moral compass.

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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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Why Is Obama Clinging to the Brotherhood?

While Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was in Germany today hoping to attract European investors to put their money in his country, the situation in many cities throughout the most populous Arab country continued to deteriorate. Violence continued, not only in the area around Cairo’s Tahrir Square where the demonstrations that toppled Hosni Mubarak started two years ago, but also in cities along the Suez Canal. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called upon Morsi to hold a national dialogue and to form a government of national unity, but there is no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood leader will budge from his determination to hold onto total power.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which has been bragging to the press about Egypt being one of its foreign policy accomplishments, is standing aloof from a situation that the head of the Egyptian military said had brought the country to the edge of collapse. While the president may pride himself for helping to hasten the end of the Mubarak dictatorship and pressured the country’s military not to interfere with the Brotherhood’s drive to take control of the country, he seemed to have gone silent just at the moment when the secular opposition there needs him to speak up. Why?

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While Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was in Germany today hoping to attract European investors to put their money in his country, the situation in many cities throughout the most populous Arab country continued to deteriorate. Violence continued, not only in the area around Cairo’s Tahrir Square where the demonstrations that toppled Hosni Mubarak started two years ago, but also in cities along the Suez Canal. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called upon Morsi to hold a national dialogue and to form a government of national unity, but there is no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood leader will budge from his determination to hold onto total power.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which has been bragging to the press about Egypt being one of its foreign policy accomplishments, is standing aloof from a situation that the head of the Egyptian military said had brought the country to the edge of collapse. While the president may pride himself for helping to hasten the end of the Mubarak dictatorship and pressured the country’s military not to interfere with the Brotherhood’s drive to take control of the country, he seemed to have gone silent just at the moment when the secular opposition there needs him to speak up. Why?

The answer appears to be rooted in the administration’s acceptance of several myths about the Brotherhood and Egypt that led it to do nothing to try and stop the Islamist group’s rise and now leads it to conclude that the U.S. has no choice but to continue to embrace Morsi and his party. But as Eric Trager writes today in Foreign Policy in an authoritative takedown of those myths, Obama’s policy on the Brotherhood has always been based on a few terrible misconceptions.

As Trager writes, American apologists for the Brotherhood have consistently argued that it was democratic in nature; its religious nature was morally equivalent to American evangelicals rather than Iran’s Islamist rulers; they were supporters of the peace treaty with Israel; and their position was so strong that they couldn’t lose in any power struggle. All these beliefs, apparently shared by the president and much of his foreign policy team, were dead wrong.

From its start, the Brotherhood’s goal was Leninist in nature, not democratic. They are uninterested in cooperating with other groups or accepting checks and balances on their power because their goal is to create an Islamist state, not to fulfill the hopes of many Egyptians about replacing Mubarak with a genuine democracy.

As for the soft-soap the Brotherhood sold to liberal columnists like those at the New York Times about the group being essentially moderate in nature and uninterested in forcing their beliefs on the country, that was always pure bunk. The group has, from its inception to the current day, been a totalitarian movement that sought to control the lives of its members and hopes to extend their grip to all of Egyptian society. As Trager notes, the only proper analogy to them is the Bolshevik movement, not a democratic American movement.

The talk about the Brotherhood seeking to make Egypt’s free market blossom was equally foolish. While, as Trager notes, it has the support of many rich Egyptians, its purpose remains the accumulation of power on the part of the government, not capitalism. Morsi may talk a good game about business development, especially when he’s in front of Western audiences and investors, but the reality of Brotherhood Egypt is one in which the big Islamist brother is the only winner in the marketplace, not free enterprise.

Nor will it ever accept the peace treaty with Israel. The only thing stopping them from scrapping the treaty is the certainty that doing so will cost them the $1 billion a year they get from the United States. But they will do everything short of actually breaking the pact or starting a war to end normal relations with the Jewish state. As Morsi has demonstrated, hatred for Israel and Jews is at the core of the Brotherhood’s ideology.

Trager, who has worked in Egypt studying the opposition to Mubarak as well as what followed, is most persuasive when he points out that Washington’s belief that they have no alternative but to deal with the Brotherhood is as foolish as the other myths about the country:

Yet the lesson of the Arab Spring is that what appears to be stable at one moment can be toppled at another — especially if people are frustrated enough with the status quo. The conditions that sparked Egypt’s 2011 uprising have only worsened in the past two years: The country’s declining economy has intensified popular frustrations, and the constant labor strikes and street-closing protests indicate that the Brotherhood’s rule is far less stable than it might appear on the surface. Meanwhile, Morsi’s dictatorial maneuvers have forced an anti-Brotherhood opposition to form much more quickly than previously imagined.

The situation in Cairo is by no means as certain as the State Department appears to think it is. Having toppled one dictator, Egyptians may well decide to overthrow another–especially if they conclude, as they should, that they have only worsened their lives by allowing the Islamists to attain power. At the very least, the U.S. ought not to be putting all its eggs in the Brotherhood basket as events unfold. But that is exactly what Obama has done in the past few months.

Allowing a key strategic country and onetime ally like Egypt to fall into the hands of an Islamist group is a disaster for American foreign policy. It is not too late for the president to begin rectifying his mistakes by cutting loose the Brotherhood at a moment when it is starting to weaken. If he doesn’t speak out now, it is fair to ask why this president seems willing to tolerate an unfriendly Islamist tyrant when he was so determined to unseat Mubarak.

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