A growing frustration in Egypt at the West’s cold shoulder

When young Egyptians took to the streets in 2011, what they wanted was a better life: an end to dictatorship, more freedom and decent economic conditions.

Poster depicting US president Barack Obama with a beard (photo credit: Reuters)
Poster depicting US president Barack Obama with a beard
(photo credit: Reuters)
When young Egyptians took to the streets in 2011, what they wanted was a better life: an end to dictatorship, more freedom and decent economic conditions.
US President Barack Obama wasted no time in contemptuously ordering Hosni Mubarak, America’s faithful ally for decades, to “Go, go now.” Yet until the revolution, no one had disputed the legitimacy of the Egyptian president.
Two years later, millions of Egyptians again took to the street to protest the new, Islamic, dictatorship, lack of personal security and an economic situation spiraling out of control. The West waxes indignant and calls for the restoration of the country’s “legitimate” president (Mohamed Morsi). It appear blind to the fact that what we see is a corrective revolution aiming to put the country back on track.
In 2011, the army, which had taken over because there was no one else, let the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned movement, operate openly and rushed to elections without drafting a new constitution and new electoral guidelines.
In 2013, the army hastened to transfer power to a civilian – the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest judicial institution in the land.
Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Prize winner and a highly respected figure, was appointed vice president and Nabil Fahmy, formerly ambassador to the United States, became foreign minister.
Somehow this did not satisfy the West.
Yet how legitimate was the Morsi regime? After all, the Muslim Brothers hijacked the revolution. They did manage to get 73 percent of the seats in the new parliament – which was later invalidated due to the extent of the fraud committed – but that was mainly because they were the only organized force. The secular opposition was not only largely unknown at the time, but also hopelessly divided into dozens of small movements lacking political experience.
Held six months later, the presidential elections showed a different picture. In the first round, Morsi obtained 25% of the vote; in the second, he did get 51.2% but there was a low turnout, fewer than half the registered voters. In other words, only a-quarter of the electorate voted for him. This when the other candidate, Ahmed Shafik, was a member of the old regime and as such rejected by the revolutionaries.
The newly elected president made a lot of promises and did not keep a single one. He was too busy implementing the program of the Muslim Brotherhood – setting the foundations of an Islamic regime through the drafting of a constitution voted in by a strong majority of Islamists trampling the rights of minorities and women, replacing the heads of the military and staffing every available position in the central government, the ministries and in the provinces with his own men. When the courts invalidated the parliament, Morsi issued a presidential decree that gave him unheard-of prerogatives: not only the right to publish laws instead of the dismantled lower house but also making his decisions immune to judicial review. There was such an outcry that he had to back down.
It was a wake-up call for the opposition. The three main secular movements – liberals, Nasserites and leftists – shelved their differences to set up the National Salvation Front. Their first decision was not to talk with the Morsi regime and setting conditions for resuming dialogue. They wanted the Islamic constitution set aside and a neutral government to rule the country until a new parliament was elected. The April 6 Youth Movement, which had started the revolution, had already declared that it was cutting off all ties with the Brotherhood.
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi repeatedly warned Morsi, but the president would not listen.
He kept on putting his men in place and forced the army and the police academies to reverse their longavowed policy of not accepting Muslim Brothers and, had he been left in place, would have achieved in a matter of one to two years the goal of the Brotherhood. It would have been too late to oppose him. Egypt would have become “Iranized.”
So intent was the president on what he saw as his mission that he completely neglected the economy. Unemployment grew; gasoline and cooking gas were getting scarce; and power failures a daily event. At the same time Egyptians were discovering that Ethiopia was going ahead with the building of a dam that, they thought, would drastically cut the flow of the Nile River, and that the government had done nothing about it.
Matters came to a boil with the onslaught of summer.
“The Rebellion,” a movement launched by young Egyptians, circulated a petition to have Morsi removed and gathered 22 million signatures.
And still the president did nothing to conciliate them.
Matters came to a head on June 30 – a year to the day after Morsi’s election. Once again millions of people took to the streets throughout the country. Once again the army took over to prevent bloodshed.
This time, as we have seen, it immediately transferred power to civilian authorities and the interim president hastened to issue a road map: first draft a balanced constitution, then parliamentary elections and at the end of the process, election of a new president.
Strangely enough, the West was aghast at what it saw as a military coup. Apparently, no one in the European Union or in the States had seen the writing on the wall, the creeping Islamization of the country, the regime’s attempts to turn into a full-blown Islamic dictatorship. They had all turned a blind eye to what was happening in Sinai, which was fast becoming a terrorist Islamic enclave with Morsi refusing to give the army a free rein.
They still don’t want to accept that what happened was a “corrective” revolution.
Sisi has stated that he is not interested in power; he is being cautious in dealing with mass protests from the Brotherhood; he has launched an aggressive policy against terrorists in Sinai and closed down most of the tunnels used to smuggle weapons from and into Gaza; he is not letting the Turkish prime minister visit Gaza.
The new regime is being warmly embraced by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states (Qatar excepted), which have pledged $12 billion to help the faltering economy, and by Jordan, all traditional allies of the United States.
So why is the West so reluctant to accept and even welcome the new state of affairs? Why demand that the Muslim Brothers be included in the new government? Why doesn’t it see that the corrective revolution has dealt a tremendous blow to the fundamentalists and the jihadists? In an unusual move, Sisi had harsh words for Obama in the interview he gave to The Washington Post on August 1. The US president, he said, had never called him.
“Hey America: Where is your support for Egypt? Where is your support for free people?” the general asked.The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.