Western countries, it appears, deluded themselves about the so-called Arab
Spring and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.
Since Egypt made
peace with Israel in 1979, it has received $70 billion from the United States in
military and civilian grants. Civilian grants were intended to help improve
education, infrastructure and develop the economy, as well as further democracy.
Grants to the army were meant to ensure the stability of the country and help
Egypt sustain its role as a leader of the Arab world against Iran and terror
Hundreds of modern F-16 planes, Abrams tanks and other
state-of-the-art materiel replaced outdated Soviet-era equipment. Joint
exercises were held; thousands of officers were sent to the US for advanced
training, in the hope that they would discover and appreciate the merits of
During the long rule of Hosni Mubarak the army was often
called “the silent partner.” Generals did not try to interfere in the ruling of
the country, though they quietly started taking over greater and greater
segments of the economy. First military industries then industrial and trade
companies; the army now holds about one third of the economy. The partnership
was not always one-sided: during the great bread crisis of 2008, the army
started baking bread and selling it at reduced prices to ease the
Army leaders were careful not to let Islamist militants into
their ranks. They remembered only too well the Sadat assassination, carried out
in 1981 by a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement during a military
Mubarak, who had survived that day, was convinced that by
favoring his generals and letting them enrich themselves he would ensure their
continuing loyalty and support.
Yet it took only one week of violent
street demonstrations in Cairo for America to abandon its ally of 43 years and
for President Barack Obama to tell Mubarak to go. He probably thought that freed
of the chains of dictatorship, a new regime would turn to democracy and
strengthen its ties with America. It was a very bad miscalculation.
was an outpouring of hatred towards the United States; worse, extremist Islamic
parties won 75 percent of the seats of the new parliament. The Muslim
Brotherhood, reaping the results of years of grassroots activism and surfing on
the wave of a system furthering Islamic education from first grade to
graduation, defeated democracy by knock-out.
What now? America watches
impotently as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) now ruling Egypt
emulates Mubarak: security forces turn on demonstrators with a vengeance,
killing dozens of civilians and wounding thousands as well as imprisoning
hundreds. The same Council accused the American University of Cairo, situated
not far from Tahrir Square, of fomenting troubles; worse, it stated that shots
had been fired from that institution toward security forces which had no choice
but to return fire – thus killing protesters. The generals may have been trying
to deflect criticism in a time-honored Egyptian manner by throwing the blame on
another – and America made a convenient scapegoat.
Then came the December
raid on 17 NGOs, including well known American civil organizations. Documents
were seized, offices closed in what was seen as a deliberate provocation against
America. A government set up and controlled by the SCAF could not have acted
without the open support of the army. Though Egypt insists that it is a purely
legal issue and that the organizations did not have the necessary permits to
operate, adding that they should apply to register and would then be allowed to
re-open, it is not a satisfactory explanation: instead of launching the raids
with no advance warning, why not first warn the United States that if the
organizations did not register within a given number of days or weeks, sanctions
would be taken? In the meantime 43 NGO employees, including 19 American
citizens, are being prevented from leaving the country.
Some of the
Americans have taken refuge in their embassy.
The SCAF appears unfazed by
the turn of events, as if it has come to the conclusion that channeling against
the hated Americans the frustration of increasingly disillusioned masses who
have yet to see some positive results of the revolution is a sound political
move. Both the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists, who view American democracy as
their most dangerous enemy, support them. When Congress threatened to cut off
aid, public opinion polls showed that 71% of the Egyptians declared that Egypt
did not need that money and that they could get the same amount from Arab
states, a position which was backed by Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri as well as
by the head of Al-Azhar University.
However, and at the same time, Issam
Alarian, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood, warned that should the Americans
stop their aid, it would lead to a review of the peace treaty with Israel,
since, he claimed, American aid was part of that treaty. Which is obviously
false; there is no mention of that help in the treaty. The US has been assisting
Egypt as part of their strategic alliance.
Egypt, which has pledged to
honor its international engagements, must respect a treaty it has signed and
which has greatly contributed to its stability.
But what happened to the
much touted friendship between American top brass and their Egyptian
counterparts? What about a little gratitude for the considerable sums poured
into Egypt to help the country’s development and the modernization of its army?
What about the generations of young officers who studied and trained in the US?
Is the SCAF ready to forgo all this, perhaps trying to curry favor with the
Brothers in the hope that they will not look too closely at the army’s attitude
during the Mubarak years? American public opinion is increasingly incensed; a
number of Congressmen call for a suspension of American aid until NGO employees
are being allowed to leave. However, the Obama administration, while well aware
that it has to do something, is reluctant to take a stand which might put an end
to the strategic cooperation with Egypt.
To sum up: far from leading to
greater openness and democracy, the ouster of Mubarak has led to brutal
oppression and an open rift with the United States – but that country is not
ready to come to terms with the outbreak of anti- American feelings or with the
fact that its strategic alliance is a thing of the past. As for the Muslim
Brothers, though well aware of the importance of American aid, they see in
democratic America a major stumbling block on the road to setting up an Islamic
regime in Egypt and doing away with the peace treaty with Israel.