Dr. El-Baz in Cognoscenti: The Needless Deterioration Of US-Egypt Relations
Opponents of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi burn pictures showing the U.S. President Barack Obama during a rally outside the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 7, 2013. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Within two short months, the decades-long ties between the U.S. and Egypt have unnecessarily deteriorated. The rifts crept in as knee-jerk reactions by lawmakers who misunderstood events in Egypt. Although much damage was done, there is time –- and there are reasons — to moderate attitudes for mutual benefit.
The incremental progress of strong ties between the two countries began with the signing of the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978 at the White House. Those ties were strengthened when Egypt joined U.S. forces in the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraq’s invasion. Stepwise, Egypt became the main U.S. ally in the Muslim world.
When Egypt’s youth revolted against the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the U.S. hailed the uprising. After a year and a half of preparation, Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) won by a slim majority of 51 percent against a Mubarak candidate. At the time, I urged the youths of Egypt to give the MB a chance because it had suffered during Mubarak’s exclusive rule, and more so, because it had a shining record of assisting the poorest segments of the society, through funds it collected as alms.
During one year of Morsi’s rule, he incrementally and illegally gave himself powers that exceeded those of his tyrannical predecessor. The MB leadership became blinded by its new-won powers and instituted a dictatorship. It constituted a parliament, rewrote the constitution, and formed a government made up of its members and their supporters to the exclusion of all others. The youths of Egypt became disillusioned and called for tamarod, a rebellion against the exclusive rule. They felt that their revolution had taken an unpopular turn and decided it required a midcourse correction.
Millions of Egyptians took to the streets even more vigorously than during the revolt against Mubarak. The army moved in to support the people’s demands and helped set up a caretaker civilian government. The MB continued to claim legitimacy and occupied two squares in Cairo, calling for the reinstatement of Morsi and his rule. Several international emissaries tried reconciliation. When these efforts failed the two sit-ins were cleared by the police force.
In my opinion, the use of force was uncalled for, but many more voices in Egypt called for a swift end to the state of intransigence to allow new elections in a stable environment. In the aftermath, the MB and its supporters began seeking vengeance. While the tamarod youths painted their shirts and faces with colors of the Egyptian flag, the MB crowd raised the black flag of Al-Qaeda, which is anathema to the Egyptian people. They also attacked police stations and mutilated the bodies of police officers. More seriously, they burned or vandalized over 50 churches throughout the country.
Amid such heinous acts, the U.S. position and rhetoric in support of the MB rule has astounded Egyptians. They thought the U.S. would support the majority’s goal of a fair and inclusive democracy, as it did following the initial uprising in 2011. They considered the tamarod movement its continuation.
Democratically fair elections do not inherently result in democratic rule. Adolf Hitler, after all, won through elections then brutally concentrated all powers in his own hands. Also, many popular revolutions took years — some decades — to produce the kind of democracies that they wished for.
Some analysts argue that supporting the MB might be a smart move to encourage moderation of the more radical Al-Qaeda and its wrath. This is a false hope because Al-Qaeda is a direct descendant of the MB, which would not abandon its brainchild no matter what is said behind closed doors.
Another important consideration missed by analysts is the unique relationship between the people of Egypt and their armed forces. These people consider their army as the shield that protects Egypt from all ills. In recent history the army responded to popular revolts against occupiers in 1879, 1919 and 1952. Egyptian youths considered the July 3rd move as an extension of those events.
Some Congressional lawmakers call for cutting off military aid to Egypt. That $1.3 billion is used for the purchase of American military hardware. This aid also allows free access to the U.S. Air Force and Navy to move throughout the entire region. Worse yet, the act might signal that the U.S. supports the failed dictatorial rule of the MB. In addition, it is an essential component of the Camp David Accords. No one would benefit from fiddling with that treaty, which kept Egypt and Israel at peace for 35 years.
Egypt’s revolution in 2011 deposed a tyrant. It would be naïve to have expected it to result in a great democracy overnight. The messy disturbances that we witness today are not unique either. Every revolution required time to bear results. We must consider that this is Egypt’s first experience with democracy.
Its young people are clearly focused on paving the road to a better future. What they seek is a modern country that is democratic and forward-looking. They know that they have a long road to catch up with the developed world; and we know that what they seek requires tenacity in the long-term. If we are not willing to cheer them along that arduous path, we should at least give them time to reach their goal. It is best for the U.S. and the European Union to hold off making judgments at this critical time.