Re-thinking US policy toward Egypt

The US can only protect its own interests by coming out strongly against anti-democratic actions.

Morsi supporters outside Constitutional Court in Egypt 370 R (photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
Morsi supporters outside Constitutional Court in Egypt 370 R
(photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
The violence erupting in Cairo was the inevitable result of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi’s illegal declaration to exercise autonomy over all governmental powers, including executive, legislative and judicial. After two weeks of protests that resulted in serious injuries and casualties, Morsi cancelled his decree, (without canceling the December 15 referendum.) But the damage had already been done. The protests haven’t stopped and the violence hasn’t subsided. His dictatorial act, which is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi power grab in 1930s Germany, has created a new reality that needs to be addressed by US policy makers.
Many Egyptians now believe that the US is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) attempt to enforce an Islamist agenda on the country.And many of them are asking why the US supported the ousting of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak when it actually went against US interests in the region?
The answer to this question is either ideological in that the US truly wants to see democracy flourish in Egypt, or else, economical – i.e. the US believes the MB will advance their interests more than Mubarak did.
If democracy is the US’ genuine aim, Egyptians are hesitant to accept this. In light of the fact that the US administration is not making an unequivocal stand against Morsi’s tyrannical and anti-democratic decree. Understandably, Egyptians are failing to see how the US expects the MB to advance American interests more than Mubarak ever did. Especially in light of the MB’s actions to date which are incompatible with, if not injurious, to US interests. These include releasing convicted jihadists from prison, allowing Hamas radicals into Sinai, and suppressing women’s rights—as evidenced in the released draft of the new constitution.
The violence in Cairo just poured more salt in the wound.
Morsi did nothing to stop his Islamist supporters from blocking off the Egyptian Supreme Court and stopping the judges from entering it. His supporters and the MB leadership (and presumably Morsi himself) encouraged a violent Islamist response to otherwise peaceful protests in front of the presidential palace. As a result, Islamists actually declared jihad on the anti-Morsi camps—spreading their poisonous agenda through social media and comments on mainstream Arabic media. The Morsi supporters continued to wage holy war on the opposition. Thousands of Islamists wielding makeshift weapons, and even guns, poured into the streets of Cairo to brutally attack the liberal groups who were peacefully demonstrating in front of the palace. Several liberal demonstrators were killed and hundreds more were seriously injured, while the few police on the scene did nothing.
Many moderate Egyptians are calling for Morsi to join Mubarak in prison, for perpetuating precisely the same crime as his predecessor: The failure to protect innocent demonstrators. Mubarak was guilty of this during the January 25 revolution; Morsi is guilty of it now with the current jihad against his peaceful detractors.
It is also important to mention that following the vicious attack on the peaceful anti-Morsi demonstrators, at least seven of Morsi’s top advisors have resigned in protest. They hold him responsible for this heinous crime against the liberal Egyptian opposition.
During the initial stages of the January 25 Revolution, most Egyptians regarded the US as a champion of democracy and freedom. But now, many regard the US as a supporter of a bloodthirsty, Islamo-fascist dictator. The US needs to correct this immediately before the perception materializes into actions against US interests in the region. This is a serious issue, especially in light of the fact that 68 percent of Egyptians chose secular candidates in the first round of the presidential election, while Morsi only received 25% of the vote. The country’s new constitution, prepared mainly by Islamists, therefore does not represent the will of the masses in Egypt.
The US needs to remind the Egyptians that they–not the US—chose Morsi in the final round of the elections (which Morsi won with 51% of the votes, according to official government estimates). Responsibility goes to those Egyptians who boycotted the elections or those who chose Morsi only to settle scores with opposition candidate Ahmed Shafik. Failure to improve the tarnished US image at this stage is deleterious to the already ineffective US efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.
In Morsi’s most recent address to the Egyptian people, his message proved counterproductive. He placed blame on the shoulders of the opposition rather than admitting to the obvious reality that it was his power grab, his supporters and his inaction that brought bloodshed to the streets of Cairo.
At this stage, any US support for the Morsi government will only allow an Islamist dictator to rule the country against the will of most of its people. Additionally, a tarnished US image will turn most Egyptians against its interests in the region. Given popular resentment towards US intervention in Egypt, the only way to improve its image in the country is by making a clear stand against Morsi. Even more importantly, the US needs to go beyond individuals and show a strong hand in support of the principles of separation of powers as a basic democratic value.  Pointing out the parallels between the policies of Morsi and Mubarak is one of few ways that the US can improve its image in the country. The US also needs to put its support behind a constitution that represents secular interests. Which still represent the majority of the population as demonstrated in the first round of election results.
The US is at a critical crossroads in determining the future of the region and curbing the expansion of Islamist fascism. If the Islamists succeed in crushing the moderate opposition in Egypt, the US will be faced with the prospect of a country like Sunni Iran. But if the moderates gain the upper hand and succeed in toppling the Islamist regime, they can start building a better Egypt and at the same time inflict a historical blow to Islamists elsewhere Egypt will consequently give hope to moderates and put Islamists in jeopardy in places like Iran, Somalia, and especially Morsi’s friends in Gaza. Should this happen, the Arab Spring may just turn out to be the Islamists Fall.
The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became the second in command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.