The popular uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt represents one of the most hopeful and promising developments in the Middle East since the Arab Spring began. When millions of Egyptians take to the streets to make clear that they do not want to trade a secular dictatorship for an Islamist dictatorship, that should be a positive development for America.
Yet somehow the Obama administration found itself on the wrong side of the struggle in Egypt — again.
During the Egyptian revolution two years ago, the Obama administration alienated Egyptians by standing with Hosni Mubarak until it was clear that he was finished. Vice President Biden declared Mubarak was not a dictator. U.S. envoy Frank Wisner declared that Mubarak “must stay in office” to oversee democratic changes. Hillary Clinton endorsed a “transition process” that would have allowed Mubarak to remain in power for many months. Soon, The Post reported, protesters in Tahrir Square were “openly denouncing the United States for supporting President Hosni Mubarak.” Demonstrators carried signs that declared “Shame on you Obama!” and showed Mubarak depicted as President Obama in Obama’s iconic “hope” image — with a caption that read “No You Can’t.”
When Mubarak finally fell and Mohamed Morsi came into power, the Obama administration seamlessly got out of bed with one Egyptian pharaoh and into bed with another. Obama looked the other way as Morsi sidelined the judiciary, amassed authoritarian powers, sidled up to Iran and Hamas, prayed publicly for the destruction of the Jews and enforced Islamist dictats.
Egyptians did not look the other way, however. They wanted their elected leaders to focus on improving the country’s crumbling economy and creating jobs — not imposing Islamic law. As a result, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin points out, Morsi “achieved in just one year what it took his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, three decades to do: completely antagonize Egyptian society.” One recent poll showed that 73 percent of Egyptians believe Morsi did not make a single good decision in office — not one.
But when Egyptians finally rose up to demand Morsi’s ouster — protesting in even greater numbers than they did against Mubarak — U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson gave a public speech on June 18 opposing “street action” and worked to persuade various groups to stay out of the demonstrations. Once again, Egyptians believed that America was standing with their strongman. Once again, Tahrir Square was awash in anti-U.S. signs: “Obama and Patterson support terrorism” read one. Another said: “Wake Up America, Obama Backs Up a Fascist Regime in Egypt.” Another showed Patterson shaking hands with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood with the caption: “We know what you did last summer.” In other words, Obama blew it a second time.
While Patterson was busy alienating Egyptians all over again, where was her boss, Secretary of State John Kerry? On his fifth trip trying to jump-start an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As Cairo was burning, Kerry was focused on a diplomatic sideshow. A “man obsessed” with Middle East peace, The Post called him in a front-page story last month. Maybe he should have been a little more “obsessed” with events in Egypt.
Now, a popular uprising in Egypt has once again succeeded in bringing down a hated leader — and once again the Egyptian people see Obama as having supported the hated leader. The Obama administration has managed to alienate virtually everyone in Egypt. The ousted Islamists hate us — because we are infidels and because they think we engineered their removal. And the secular opposition hates us for standing with the Islamists.
There is a lesson in all this for the Obama administration: When 1.4 million Egyptians march to protest the Muslim Brotherhood and they ask America with whom America stands — the answer should not be the Muslim Brotherhood. A popular uprising against Islamist rule in Egypt should have been a major victory in the ideological struggle against Islamic extremism. Yet Obama managed to squander that victory, by standing with the pharaoh instead of with the people.