Washington Watch: Stumbling on Egypt’s road to democracy
Standing in the way are leaders of military junta who don’t want to surrender power and the Muslim Brotherhood with an autocratic outlook that is embodied in its slogan, “Islam is the Solution.”
Mohamed Morsy supporters Photo: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Egyptians made Mohamed Morsy their first democratically elected president, but
that’s no guarantee they will get a democratic government.
the way are leaders of military junta who don’t want to surrender power and the
Muslim Brotherhood with an autocratic outlook that is embodied in its slogan,
“Islam is the Solution.”
Shortly after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign
16 months ago, I wrote a column questioning whether Egypt was experiencing a
genuine revolution or a military coup masquerading as one. That issue still is
unsettled and back where it began, with thousands of demonstrators in Cairo’s
Many Israelis and their American supporters blamed the US
government for not doing enough to keep Mubarak in power. But, with his health
failing and deaf to the legitimate demands of his people, his situation was
beyond rescue. He was given the final push by the military, which has been not
only a pillar of Egyptian society for half a century but also of that country’s
close relations with the United States and Israel.
Don’t be surprised to
see some of Barack Obama’s political foes repeat the accusation that he
abandoned Mubarak and try to blame him for the election of the first Islamist
head of state in the Arab world. They may also repeat charges by some Egyptian
secular and liberal groups that Washington endorsed Morsy and the Brotherhood
and pressured the military to turn over power to the Islamist
The American-educated Morsy is “not a great supporter, fan of
the United States,” according to former US Ambassador to Egypt Ned Walker.
Instead, he is a “true believer” in the Muslim Brotherhood’s program of “topdown
autocratic leadership” with anti-democratic components, he added.
David Dreier (R-California), an election monitor, told CNN a senior Brotherhood
leader had “indicated” to him the group has no plan to scrap the Camp David
Morsy, representing the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party,
won a narrow four-point victory over the secular Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former
prime minister, showing how deeply divided that country is. President Obama
phoned both men on Sunday to urge them to work in “national unity” to mend the
Obama did not specifically mention the treaty with
Israel but implied as much when he urged Egypt to continue its role “as a pillar
of regional peace, security and stability.”
The administration has
repeatedly called on the generals who have ruled for the past 16 months to honor
their commitment to turn control over to the democratically elected civilian
government by July 1, but that is not going to happen.
Just before last
weekend’s presidential runoff a Mubarak-appointed court dismissed the
democratically elected Islamist-majority parliament, and the ruling junta
effectively declared martial law, stripped the parliament and president of much
of their power and took charge of drafting a permanent constitution that is
expected to protect its own power and interests.
There have been veiled
threats from the administration that failure to turn over power could endanger
Egypt’s annual $1.3 billion aid package, but in reality the aid is not in
There will be charges from the Left about the administration’s
failure to force the military to relinquish power and from the Right for its
failure to prevent the Islamists from gaining power.
On Monday, the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which in the past has tried to
cut aid to Egypt (without leaving any fingerprints) only to run into opposition
from the Israeli Embassy, sent to Capitol Hill an article suggesting Morsy
intends to “revise” the Camp David accords with Israel and reopen diplomatic
relations with Iran that were broken in 1980.
There are two problems with
AIPAC’s “news item.” First is the source: FARS, the notoriously unreliable
Iranian news agency. Second, it’s a hoax, debunked by Morsy’s office, Egypt’s
official news agency and several news outlets, including an Iranian
One apparent purpose of the story (and its distribution?) was to
drive a wedge between Morsy and the Israelis and Americans.
told American officials that he has no intention of abrogating the treaty with
Israel and said Sunday evening in his post-election speech that his government
would “preserve international accords and obligations.”
Congress’s Likud faction may try to put some restrictions on aid to Egypt or
relations with the Morsy government in order to force Obama to appear to be
defending the Islamist government during an election campaign in which
Republicans are trying to portray Obama as pro-Muslim and
Attempts to restrict aid to Egypt, however, will run into
strong opposition from the Pentagon and the Israelis, according to Capitol Hill
sources who have been speaking with the military from all three
“Up here we listen to the military people in the US and Israel
and they want good relations with the Egyptians,” said a senior foreign policy
The Pentagon brass have been telling lawmakers “we need
overflight rights, access to the Suez Canal, our ability to deal with any
contingency in the region, our peacekeeping mission in the Sinai, our supply
route to Afghanistan, the jobs and safety of thousands of American contractors
servicing all the weapons systems we’ve delivered to Egypt for decades. And in
this election year, don’t forget all the American companies doing business in
Egypt,” this source said.
The anti-Israel, anti-Semitic rhetoric that may
come out of the new Egyptian government could get a lot worse than under
Mubarak, but senior Israeli and Egyptian military officials tell their American
visitors that their own relationship is extremely close, in contrast to the
hostility on the civilian side, sources told me.
Amb. Walker told CNN the
Egyptian military “is still very much in command” and will “continue to support
the treaty with Israel.”
The Egyptian revolution, if that’s what it is,
is not over but moving into the next stage.
That country may have elected
a president, but he could turn out to be a figurehead with no power to govern.
And then again....