There seems to be something of a disconnect between who Egyptians think America is supporting, and who America actually is supporting in Cairo. In the U.S., story after story has been written about how the Obama Administration has bent over backwards not to call this latest change in government a “coup” and has been relatively muted in its reaction to the deaths of so many civilians – upwards of 1,000 in the last week alone.
Yet Egyptians remain convinced that President Obama is backing the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohamed Morsi. At a lunch at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence on Thursday, Dr. Mohamed Abou El-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, bluntly warned a small gathering of journalists and policy wonks that he fears, “America is losing Egypt…There is a very strong perception that they are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and they are against other parties,” he said.
Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad! Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood! Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US! Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!
Egyptian Realities vs. American Fantasies
August 23, 2013
The gap between Egyptian realities and the opinions of American leaders of both parties is simply amazing.
The American leaders seem to live in a fantasy world in which America is all powerful, our definition of legitimacy is unchallengeable, and our right to take risks with the lives of other people is unquestioned.
Both Democratic and Republican leaders (and their allies in the news media) seem to have no sense of the realities facing the Egyptian military.
Put yourselves in the shoes of the senior officers of the Egyptian military.
Two years ago they watched the Obama Administration abandon President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak had been President of Egypt for 30 years and throughout that time had supported the United States — through two wars in Iraq, the decade of war in Afghanistan, and an amazing number of other contingencies. His reward for being a faithful ally was abandonment and imprisonment.
The Obama desertion of Mubarak almost certainly reminded the Egyptian military of President Jimmy Carter’s desertion of the Shah of Iran. In November of 1978 President Carter toasted the Shah as a great ally. A few months later, the Americans pressured him to give in to the “reformers.” The Shah was driven from his country and died overseas. His generals were imprisoned and many executed. Their families fled Iran. Today, 34 years later, the “reformers” have consolidated their dictatorship and are trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The United States invaded Iraq and left behind a high level of violence.
The United States helped drive Qaddafi from power and has left Libya in shambles.
The United States has wrung its hands and publicly dithered while Assad has worked with the Iranians and the Russians to consolidate his control over Syria.
American senators and American secretaries of state can fly to Cairo to offer advice and advocate idealistic but impractical reforms. When they are done lecturing Egyptians, they fly home to safety.
The senior officers of the Egyptian military know that they will still be there when the Americans leave. Indeed, many of them remember the Americans abandoning their allies in South Vietnam.
Most senior American officials do not understand this and assume their prestige is unquestionable.
Cutting off American aid will have no effect. (I favor cutting it off because it is no longer furthering American interests.) The Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies have already committed $10 in new aid for every dollar of American aid.
The senior officers of the Egyptian military know that their lives and their families’ lives depend on defeating the Muslim Brotherhood.
They know that Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak all followed hard line policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and it worked.
They know that the Algerian Army rejected an Islamist election victory in 1991 and fought an eleven year civil war to impose order on Algeria. More than 44,000 Algerians were killed in the campaign to defeat Islamists. Westerners were horrified. The Algerian Army won.
The hardest-line example of survival through repression was Hafez Assad of Syria who survived in power for 30 years (from 1970 to his death in 2000). Assad was relentlessly tough in fighting the Muslim Brotherhood. When they tried to assassinate him in 1980 he retaliated by executing over 600 prisoners. When the city of Hama sought to rebel he crushed it so thoroughly that it became a model of horrifying repression. Tom Friedman of the New York Times coined the term “Hama Rules”. In Hama that meant literally destroying entire neighborhoods to eliminate opposition. That brutal operation cost 20,000 Syrians their lives but Assad stayed in power.
The United States must rethink its entire policy in the Middle East.
We have to recognize that on a bipartisan basis for the last 12 years we have tried to create and impose an American fantasy in Middle Eastern realities.
Egypt is a good place to begin rethinking this policy.