There must have been some soul-searching in Washington last week, following
Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Cairo. Gone are the days of Hosni
Mubarak, America’s staunch ally, leader of the Arab world, and keeper of the
region’s stability and of the peace treaty with Israel.
For the second
time in less than a year, an American envoy bearing gifts was met with violent
Last July, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, coming to
Cairo for a first contact with the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi – the
Muslim Brotherhood candidate – found herself confronted by mobs of non-Islamist
opponents of the regime as well as Copts angry at America’s support for the
Brothers that it was claimed had been instrumental in their victory.
time, however, it seemed as if most of the country was up in arms. There were
demonstrations near the American Embassy and the Foreign Ministry; the National
Salvation Front, encompassing almost all non-Islamist movements, refused to meet
the visitor and nongovernmental media attacked him relentlessly.
were outraged by America’s call for all political parties to take part in the
forthcoming parliamentary elections at a time when the opposition is calling for
Mohamed ElBaradei, one of its leaders, said that it was an
unwarranted interference into Egyptian internal affairs.
rejects elections held according to the new constitution, because they do not
accept its legitimacy.
They want a neutral government to oversee the
electoral process, to ensure that it is free and transparent with none of the
massive fraud involved in the referendum.
ElBaradei and his ally Hamdeen
Sabahi – leader of the popular Nasserist movement – announced that they would
not meet with Kerry, while Amr Moussa, third leader of the Front and a seasoned
diplomat, did agree to see him, but only for what was called “a private
meeting,” not as a member of the Front, but in his capacity as president of the
Congress Party. Kerry did phone ElBaradei on his arrival to Cairo on March 2,
but was unable to make him change his mind.
The American ambassador had
invited 11 members of the opposition to meet with the high ranking visitor, but
only six came. It transpired that Kerry reiterated his country’s official
policy, which is the need to hold elections to ensure the stability of
Three opposition members stood their ground, while the other three
said they might be induced to vote, should the electoral process be transparent
and devoid of fraud or coercion.
The secretary of state who had thrown
the might of his country behind his efforts at effecting a reconciliation
between Morsi and the opposition, or at least getting them to agree on a
dialogue, had failed in his mission. Yet his visit had another purpose, not only
urging Morsi to respect democratic values, but also to stress the paramount
importance of Egypt in the region, and the necessity of keeping the peace with
Israel. In his talks with the heads of the Egyptian intelligence community, he
insisted on the need to deal with the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula
and to prevent weapons smuggling into the Gaza strip.
However, he also
addressed the severe economic crisis and promised to transfer $250 million to
Egypt (out of the billion pledged by Obama a year ago), but demanded that Morsi
ratify a deal with the International Monetary Fund, granting a loan of $4.8
It has not happened yet, both because of the political
instability in the country, and because no solution has been found to deal with
an unexpected snag: lending with interest is prohibited by the Shari’a – Islamic
Should a solution be found, and the deal go through, it would open
the way for further loans at reduced interest from other countries, as well as
investments from international companies. However, the IMF loan comes with
strings attached: Morsi has to launch sweeping economic reforms and cancel
subventions on staples, which might intensify the deep economic, social and
political crisis in the country. The situation is bad enough as it
Egypt is perilously close to chaos. There are riots and mass protests
against the regime of the Muslim Brothers, calls for an end to their rule and
for Morsi to resign.
Suddenly it seems as if the people want the army to
take over. In several cities there have been attempts through legal procedures
to appoint the minister of defense, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to take over
Dozens have died and thousands have been wounded in
confrontations between protesters and security forces. The people who take to
the streets are mostly good Muslims who do not want to be ruled by the Shari’a,
and have lost confidence in Morsi.
Bands of extremist militants, among
them members of the so-called “Black block” preach civil disobedience; it
started in Port Said and has spread to other cities along the Suez canal as well
as elsewhere in the country. Police buildings are routinely attacked and even
put to the torch; workers go on strike; there are popular roadblocks on some of
the major roads.
Strangely enough, Morsi does not appear to be worried
and keeps on saying that Egypt is doing well and everything will be fine. At the
same time he is feverishly appointing his men to every public office – be it
local or national – in a concerted effort to concentrate all powers in the
Was the secretary of state aware of the true state of
affairs in the country? Was he informed that what is happening is a fight to the
last for the nature of post-revolutionary Egypt? The choice is stark. Going
forward to democracy and development, or going backward into a radical Islamic
regime. By insisting that the opposition accept the rules of the game set down
by Morsi and take part in the electoral process Kerry has angered large segments
of the population.
Americans are blamed for having bolstered Mubarak’s
dictatorship for so long and now trying to do the same with Morsi. More and more
editorials call for the Americans to get out of Egypt with their money and to
Strangely enough Morsi himself does not appear ready to
listen to Washington’s entreaties. And so more and more people on Capitol Hill
and in the US media are now openly calling for an end to all help to such a
The White House could be checking its options. To keep on
helping the Brotherhood impose radical Islam on Egypt, or to give a helping hand
to those who are trying to put the country on the path of democracy? For the
time being, it appears that America is being reviled by both sides.
writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former
ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
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