This is the fourth post in a four-post series called Egypt: The Brotherhood, the Christians and the Americans. The first post lays out the major groups in Egypt. The second post looks at what’s next for the Muslim Brotherhood. The third post is concerned with the fate of Christians in Egypt. The fourth post is about America’s role in the current Egypt.
It depends who you ask.
What is clear is that the United States government — not to be confused with Americans in general — will not look good no matter what it does.
Here are three views of the United States and its role in the continuing conflict in Egypt.
The pro-military view
These are the people who opposed Mohammed Morsi while he was president. They saw that he was using his position — albeit, won in democratic elections — as a power grab for the Muslim Brotherhood, and that he was failing to improve the economy, employment and social divisions in the country, all the while ostracizing everyone outside of the MB. They approved of the military’s ousting of Morsi and generally still like the army, though some factions have condemned its recent violence.
The pro-military group, which is the large majority, has a schizophrenic view of America’s place in the Egyptian conflict. On the one hand, many assert that the US pulled strings in order to get Morsi elected, and they’re now calling Barack Obama and the American government traitors for condemning the military’s brutal efforts to repress their pro-Morsi opponents. On the other hand, some — though not all — want the United States to continuing providing its $1.3 billion annual gift in the form of financial and military aid. (Lately, Egypt’s leaders have become emboldened and, with the help of aid from Gulf states, assert they don’t need American aid.)
It really is a problematic perspective, logically and practically. Why, after all, would the US want an MB member to be the Egyptian president? At the same time, why would the US not be wary of a return to military rule?
The majority in Egypt simply wants to be free of “American interference” — though some, ironically, still want the benefit of American aid. Many are calling Obama a supporter of terrorism because he has spoken out against the violence of the military and because he think the MB should be included in Egypt’s political future. Really, many regular Egyptians believe the military was justified in its crackdown because the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a terrorist group instead of a legitimate political party.
To get a flavor of the anger many Egyptians are feeling toward America’s supposed puppeteering of the MB and thwarting of Egyptian will, you need look no further than Obama’s facebook page, which has been utterly overrun by comments like these:
The pro-Morsi view (i.e. The Muslim Brotherhood view)
The pro-Morsi group is really just the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the anti-Morsi assertions that the US is in cahoots with the MB, the Brotherhood doesn’t exactly have positively feelings toward the American government. In fact, they think the United States is in cahoots with the anti-Morsi crowd.
Understandably, the Brothers are angry that their man was ousted from office and, to make matters worse, is now being held by the state without legitimate grounds. The reason for this ouster was the enormous popular opposition to Morsi’s government. Also, the military does not like — and has never liked — the MB, and was probably ecstatic at the chance to give Morsi and his MB cronies the boot.
So, it seems like the pro-Morsi crowd would be justified in being angry with much of the Egyptian public and the military, but why not throw the US in the mix, too. (Granted, the United States wasn’t in love with the idea of Morsi in power, but we did like that he got the job democratically.)
To add to the MB’s complaints against the US in the current turmoil, Obama has thus far refused to call the military’s overthrow of Morsi a coup, because doing so would necessitate halting aid to Egypt — by our own laws, we cannot provide aid to a country in the immediate aftermath of a military coup (see the exact law in section B3 here). And because the US won’t officially recognize what happened as a coup, Morsi supporters see America as supportive of the army’s seizure of power and everything that’s come after.
The American view
To say that America has “a view” about its role in the Egyptian crisis is absurd (as absurd as saying all Egyptians have only the above two views). There are as many perspectives as there are Americans. Some think Morsi’s toppling was justified by popular demand, and that the US should stand behind the pro-military majority. Some think Morsi was democratically elected and the US should, therefore, accept his right to rule until he is democratically removed from office or his term is up (too late for this one). Still others think the US should keep its nose and money out of Egyptian affairs because “it’s not our problem.”
The government’s perspective, thus far, is based on two premises: 1) democratic process and 2) American leverage.
The democratic process bit is, at this point, mostly wishful thinking. We may wish that Morsi was never elected, or that his ousting was through a process of democratic impeachment, but it’s too late for that. So, moving forward, the American government is pushing for “peaceful,” “democratic” solutions. Things like: the right to assembly, the right to protest, the freedom of speech and press, releasing prisoners wrongfully held (i.e. Morsi). Also, the US almost certainly doesn’t like the idea of the military apparatus running the state, so we’re urging constitutional elections as soon as possible — elections that will, ideally, include the MB and all other parties in Egypt.
American leverage is the other tenet of the country’s game plan in Egypt. It’s the reason Obama has not called the military’s move a coup. We want to continue giving aid to Egypt so that we stay on good terms with the people holding the country’s reins (i.e. the military). We want to keep a foothold in Egypt, the most populous and one of the most reputable Arab states.
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It’s perfectly legitimate for Egyptians to point out that the United States has its own brand of corruption. We have backed dictatorships — we backed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak — and we use our money and influence in Egypt to maintain leverage in the Middle East. However, it’s ridiculous to suppose the US is to blame for everything bad that happens, every turn of tables, every change in the political winds. America is an easy target for distrust and even anger, but that doesn’t give credence to the slew of conspiracy theories that mottle the Egyptian psyche — so many of which end with the American government as the ogre waving a club at the young and aspiring.
So, America is in a tough spot. What do we do when our ideals and our pocketbooks don’t align? When our principles and our desires seem mutually exclusive? What happens when our vision of democracy differs from the vision of another group? What do we choose when there seem only bad options?
Right or wrong, what we will do is continue to look out for our own interests. We will continue to be a scapegoat. We will watch in horror. We will spew rhetoric of “peace” and “the democratic way.” We will continue to be the ogre. And, to someone somewhere, if not everyone everywhere, we will look bad all the way.