Analysis: Obama unlikely to support Cairo opposition

American expert says Egyptian President Morsi mimicking Turkey’s Erdogan by working to take over armed forces.

A vendor sells flags in Tahrir Square 370 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
A vendor sells flags in Tahrir Square 370
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Thousands of opposition activists protested across Egypt on Monday, the second anniversary of former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Morsi.
“Down with the rule of the [Muslim Brotherhood] supreme guide,” they shouted, according to a report in Egyptian paper Al-Ahram. Protesters also disrupted traffic and created disorder at various locations in Cairo, blocking the country’s largest administrative center at Tahrir Square for the second day.
As tensions rise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition, US President Barack Obama’s policy has been to not actively support the opposition.
Instead, Obama believes he is achieving regional stability by strengthening Morsi’s hold on power.
Obama approved a recent delivery of over 20 F-16 fighter jets, and has continued the annual military and economic aid. Furthermore, he has kept relatively quiet over Morsi’s undemocratic maneuvers in consolidating his party’s position.
However, this policy has risks. Almost every day, news reports emerge from Egypt demonstrating that Morsi continues to act against US national interests. Just last week, Morsi gave Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a glorious reception and kisses on the cheek. In addition, anti-Semitic and anti-American statements that Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have issued over the years are being pushed under the rug.
According to analysts, Obama’s objective is to manipulate Morsi, using US aid, into following US interests, and he justifies this policy by citing the moral imperative of respecting the results of Egyptian elections.
However, Obama appears to be favoring a regime at odds with American interests at the expense of supporting an opposition that has elements more closely aligned with those interests.
David Schenker, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells The Jerusalem Post that from the beginning, the Obama administration was not so concerned about Islamists coming to power in Egypt.
He says the administration was neutral about who would win the elections, though “on the ground the perception is that the administration is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood 100 percent and has been doing so since the revolution. This is the perception of non-Islamist Egyptians who did not vote for Morsi.”
And non-Islamist forces in Egypt seem to be paying attention. Last week, Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly posted an “Open letter to President Obama,” written by Bahieddin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
His position reflected that of the anti-Islamist opposition, that Obama has abandoned Egyptians.
“Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations,” he wrote.
“Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations.
Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.”
The letter also said there was no real democratic process and that statements coming from the US administration simply played into the Brotherhood’s hands.
Daniel Pipes, president of the conservative Middle East Forum, tells the Post that Obama’s tacit support for the Islamist regime in Egypt “is a horrible policy.” Pipes thinks the US “should always oppose Islamists and support the liberals.”
Echoing Hassan’s views, he points out in a post on the National Review website the statement that Anne W. Patterson, the US ambassador to Egypt, made at a joint ceremony in Cairo celebrating the delivery of the new F-16 jets: “We look to Egypt to continue to serve as a force for peace, security, and leadership... The United States has long recognized Egypt as an indispensable [sic] partner.”
Writes Pipes, “Is not anyone in the Department of State aware that Egypt is now run by an Islamist zealot from the bowels of the Muslim Brotherhood whose goals differ profoundly from those of Americans?”
Schenker does not see a realistic possibility of the administration or Congress managing to change US policy in the near future by cutting aid to Egypt. The US cannot “end funding even if it wanted to, because of the way the foreign aid is structured.”
There is financing that allows them to “fund weapons systems over a multi-year period,” he says. “If congress freezes this, then US businesses get hit, which are producing $1.3 billion in arms per year.”
In addition, he notes, canceling the aid would lead the US to break its contractual agreements with Egypt, and new legislation would be necessary.
Pipes notes in a recent post on his blog that the US suffers from naïveté, believing that “training and equipping foreign troops imbues them with American political and ethical values, making them allies of the United States.” He mentions problems related to the policies of training forces in Afghanistan, Mali and the Palestinian Authority. In these cases and others, US military support has or likely will backfire.
According to Schenker, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is doing what the Islamists did in Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It took Erdogan 10 years to take over the army in Turkey, and Morsi has already started a similar process, dismissing the heads of the army and around 70 generals.
The moral of the story for Israel is that it will find it difficult to directly counter Obama’s continued support for Morsi.
Israel’s policy on this front continues to be paralyzed, and is based on the hope that US economic leverage will keep Morsi in line.
The problems will begin if Morsi starts throwing support behind proxy forces that are acting against Israel.