By Arab News
By Linda Heard
The question is this. Why is a centrist US administration stuffed with liberals courting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the country’s new president?
If you happen to be chronically politically naïve, you might conclude that the United States is set on strictly upholding democracy’s underpinning principles on the basis that now that the Egyptian people have spoken Washington must respect their decision. Never mind that the Hamas leadership, chosen by the Palestinian people in a 2006 ballot acknowledged to be fair, was congratulated before being targeted for destruction by the US and its Western allies.
Ideologues may believe the US is doing the right thing by siding with freedom-seeking Egyptians angered that their fledgling democracy could be nothing more than a sham as long as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remains the hand that rocks the cradle, forgetting America’s long history of forging military and economic bonds with dictators and oppressors along with its cozy relationship with Ankara even during an era when power rested with the Turkish armed forces.
The more politically savvy could argue that the Obama White House is working on the thesis “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.” Giving the impression of befriending President Muhammad Mursi, a self-proclaimed champion of Palestinian rights who is keen to renegotiate Camp David, Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, keeps America’s foot in the door as regards insider intelligence and influence.
However, a growing number of educated Egyptian moderates and secularists have begun to smell a rat. They are confused about the US stance. The sight of a smiling US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton feting Mursi and encouraging him, an untried head of state without a shred of experience in government — to fight for total civilian control while wagging her finger at SCAF for its refusal to butt out of the internal political arena — especially in light of the way the US and Egyptian armies have been joined at the hip for decades — was strangely surreal for many.
Indeed, Clinton’s arrival in Egypt on Saturday armed with a briefcase of ‘advice’ to Muhammad Mursi and the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was seen as the last straw for Egyptians, those who until now have been quietly simmering over what they perceive to be the hijacking of their revolution by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Free Egyptians Party and other groups of the like-minded organized a protest rally around the Four Seasons hotel on the capital’s Nile Corniche designed to tell Clinton that her interference in Egypt’s affairs isn’t appreciated.
Demonstrators, many well-heeled, shouted criticisms of their new president and his attempt to reinstitute the Parliament. Some of those interviewed on Al Faraeen TV — the only network that gave anything approximating coverage to the protest at which the channel’s owner was a speaker — expressed fears that Mursi will open the Egypt’s border with Gaza and join hands with Hamas.
I spent hours scanning the TV for alternative reporting to no avail. It seemed inconceivable that what was billed as a “Million Man” protest against America’s attempt to poke its nose into matters affecting Egyptians hadn’t been considered newsworthy by editors. I was particularly interested in getting an unbiased estimate of the turnout. Al Faraeen’s anchor maintained the demonstration stretched along the Nile’s bank over two kilometers but I suspected that report was an exaggeration.
It wasn’t until I bumped into an acquaintance, an Egyptian diplomat, on Sunday evening who had accompanied Ms. Clinton during part of her stay that I learned over half-a-million angry protestors had deterred her from leaving her suite for four hours. Earlier on Sunday, she had inaugurated an American consulate in Egypt’s second largest city Alexandria where her motorcade had been pelted with tomatoes and eggs.
What’s at the core of this seeming anti-Americanism among wealthy elites, intellectuals and the business community you might think? To some ears, their worries revolving around their analysis of long-term US goals might smack of conspiracy theory. Few may realize it, but their fears stem from an advisory paper titled “Grand Strategy for the Middle East” prepared by the Rand Corporation in 2002 that was put before George W. Bush and his Cabinet.
From the perspective of the US and Israel, Egypt is, indeed, a prize worth winning. It enjoys a geopolitically strategic location. It controls the Suez Canal. It is rich with hydrocarbons and, importantly, it is the largest Arab country in terms of population and one of the most politically and culturally influential. Most crucially, it is Jewish state’s neighbor. As long as Mubarak was in place, Israel had nothing to fear. He kept the peace for 30 years. But whether or not President Mursi will follow in his footsteps when he is committed to the Palestinian cause must be on the minds of American friends of Israel.
A brief Reuters’ report published on Monday, one of few on the weekend’s demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria, reads: “It was not clear who the protestors were or what were their political affiliations.” They were ordinary people who suspect the US of giving the new Islamist leadership free rein as a prelude to tagging Egypt as a terrorist state, thus opening the gate to a re-run of Iraq.
Egypt is a prize but how far the US is prepared to go to grab it is anyone’s guess.