The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion On the wrong side, again, in Egypt

The contrast could not be more stark. Secretary of State John Kerry, after enumerable hours on the deader than dead “peace process” declares . . . they’ll have more meetings. He apparently has no sense how badly he is frittering away his time and whatever is left of U.S. credibility in the area.

Meanwhile, Egypt is in turmoil and anti-Americanism is on the rise from picking the wrong friends and the wrong timing.

The Post reports:

A  major Egyptian opposition group amplified its condemnation of the United States on Saturday, accusing it of being partner to a conspiracy to keep President Mohamed Morsi in power, a day after an American bystander was killed during clashes here.
“America and the Brotherhood have united to bring down the Egyptian people,” said Hassan Shahin, a member of the Tamarod, or “rebel,” movement. He was referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Morsi. Shahin spoke during a Saturday news conference held to rally Egyptians’ support ahead of anti-government demonstrations planned for Sunday, the first anniversary of Morsi’s accession to power.

This follows increasing signs of anti-American sentiment. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal last week:

A flurry of newspaper articles, talk shows and public statements over the past few weeks have singled out the U.S. for particular scorn while accusing America’s diplomatic mission in Cairo of acting as a sort of puppet master behind Mr. Morsi’s administration. . . . The popular perception of America’s abrupt role reversal—from anti-Islamist crusader to champion of political Islam—speaks volumes about the perilous straits U.S. policy makers must navigate as they shift loyalties in a fast-changing Middle East.

The incompetent U.S. administration should have made clear from the beginning, as many of us urged, what conditions would be placed on U.S. aid and what behavior was unacceptable for a (nominal) ally. When we had leverage we didn’t use it, and now we’re tied to the object of the Egyptian people’s ire.

The people whom we should have been behind all along — secular, anti-jihadists — are in the streets. And the U.S. ambassador there, Anne Patterson, decided to double down:

In an effort to “set the record straight” about the U.S. relationship with the Brotherhood, Ms. Patterson said the White House supported Mr. Morsi because he was fairly elected and poured cold water on protesters’ plans to oust him on June 30.
“Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical,” Ms. Patterson told the audience of mostly activists. “More violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs. Instead, I recommend Egyptians get organized.”

A former U.S. official e-mails me, “We should be speaking out for democracy, which Anne Patterson has not been doing. We’ve let Morsi get away with murder, and our natural allies in Egypt know it and are resentful. They wonder why and conclude we want him to stay in power.” When we see the vehement reaction of those who should be our natural allies, you see how badly we have bollixed this up:

The backlash from activist corners was fast and fierce. George Ishaq, a prominent Egyptian Christian and longtime pro-democracy campaigner attacked Ms. Patterson on the popular talk show “The Issue” on Al Hayat, Egypt’s most-watched satellite channel.
“She is an evil lady who is creating divisions. How is this any of her business?” Mr. Ishaq said of Ms. Patterson. “If I saw her walking down the street I would tell her, ‘shut up and mind your own business.”

With no show of good faith from Morsi — but plenty of signs of rabid anti-Semitism, contempt for civil liberties and attacks on Christian Copts — the United States has backed the Muslim Brotherhood leader. President Obama has not conditioned aid. Obama has enabled Morsi with U.S. dollars.

Open questions remain, the official noted, as to how chaotic the situation there is. Moreover, as is the perennial issue in Egypt, the United States must decide if, how and when to support the Egyptian military, which is maybe the one stable institution in Egypt and one that has no intention, for example, of undoing its peace treaty with Israel.

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I’ve made the case several times before that the United States should cease backing Morsi personally and instead make clear we will back a government that has legitimacy with the Egyptian people and is (relatively) more protective of civil liberties, respects the rights of minorities (including Christians) and honors its international obligations. We assess the situation, ideally, based on conduct of the players. Instead, we now face the entirely predictable and shameful state of affairs: We are again on the wrong side of history.

This is only a dose of what we can expect in Syria. If and when Bashar al-Assad departs and some new government is formed, thanks in part to the backing of the Russians, you can imagine the wave of anti-American hatred that will sweep the country. As the nation counts 100,000 or more dead Syrians, pictures no doubt will circulate and recirculate of our current secretary of state just a few years ago yukking it up with Assad and his wife.

Obama and his allies, with the possible exception of Jordan, has managed to lose influence, antagonize old and potentially new friends and demonstrate our utter fecklessness to those watching (Russia, China, Iran). It’s not easy to accomplish all of that simultaneously, but by gosh the Obama adminstration pulled it off.

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: The New York Times reports: “Egypt’s armed forces threatened on Monday to intervene in the country’s political crisis, warning President Mohamed Morsi and other politicians that they had 48 hours to respond to an outpouring of popular protests that have included demands for his resignation.” It is unclear whether they are demanding Morsi relinquish power.