Egypt: Obama on the Wrong Side of History

The culture of criticism without proposed solutions, rhetoric without ideals, and condemnation without moral convictions has become an exhaustingly common spectacle in American politics in all matters of policy, domestic and foreign. To witness the extent of its potential, though, one need only look to the vague sense of moral uncertainty that Americans have been left to bear at the end of twelve years of conflict and tempestuous relations with the Muslim world. The American left and its ideological counterparts in Western Europe (not always on the political left in those countries, mind you), among their many speculations about the subversive reasoning behind America’s foreign policy, have long insinuated without grounds that the United States’ choices of allies and enemies has been based on an impassioned animosity (or, at the very least, an archaic and unexamined bigotry) toward Islam as a religion and/or Muslims as people and paranoid cries of ‘Islamophobia’, allegedly on the rise, pervade discussions of the West’s dealings with Muslims at home and overseas.


However, a rational look at America’s dealings with the Muslim world reveals ample reason for the anger felt by these critics, but reveals it to be misplaced. Cries of ‘Islamophobia’ are not substantiated by the data, but provide a ready-made accusation of irrational fear and bigotry to be leveled against anyone who dares challenge the policies of Islamists in the West or in the Middle East, where the Arab Revolts of 2011 have since hurled them to power. Furthermore, as this publication has argued in the past, US foreign policy under Obama and his predecessors has not been aimed against Islam, but has instead sought to endorse Islamists. The US has maintained a long-standing practice, dating back to the heart of the Cold War, of encouragement and cooperation with conservative, religious forms of government there. This pattern, beginning with US relations with Saudi Arabia under Eisenhower, has remained the norm in the post-Arab-Revolt period under Obama—most notably so in US relations with the Morsi regime in Egypt.


The rise to power of Mohammed Morsi last summer was met in the US with a predictable lack of conviction. The Obama administration showed a steadfast willingness to endure any abuse in support of the Morsi regime. Prior to the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in national elections, Obama downplayed concerns over their rise to power by saying that the Brotherhood was merely “one faction in Egypt”, not guaranteed to gain power and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, referred to the Brotherhood as “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence.”


Predictably, the Brotherhood emerged victorious with 37% of the vote and Mohammed Morsi, who prefaced his election with religious condemnations of the US as Egypt’s great enemy, was graced with a call from President Obama, congratulating him on his election and wishing him luck in his first term. The baffling irony of this scene was reproduced time and again, culminating with the United States’ provision of an unconditional $250,000,000 in aid and vast supplies of military hardware (notably F-16 fighter jets, tanks, and 140,000 cans of tear gas to be employed against protestors) as the Egyptian regime began to openly speak of ‘war’ with America. Even as the protests of the last few days approached, President Obama’s ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson sought to convince the Coptic Christian community, which has been harshly persecuted under the Morsi regime, not to join in the protests against him.


The message is clear: the Obama administration has stood with the Morsi regime from the start and does not show any signs of stopping, just as it took no stance in the uprisings against Hosni Mubarak until his ouster was almost certain. Thus, it is unsurprising to find the American administration targeted in the banners of Egypt’s protestors who have taken to the streets in the last two days.


In what is reportedly the single largest political proest in the history of humankind, an estimated 14 million Egyptians have taken to the streets across the country to oppose the Morsi regime. The northeast town of Port Said proudly declared itself the first Muslim-Brotherhood-free zone in Egypt and banned any entry by Mohammed Morsi or his forces into the province. The Egyptian police have declared that they will not serve as a militia to the regime and have proposed changing the longstanding national Police Day holiday, once January 25th, to June 30th to commemorate their siding with the people of Egypt.


Meanwhile, the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president of the United States is singled out in many of the demonstrators’ banners: “Obama Stop Supporting MB Fascist Regime”, “Obama Supports Terrorism”, “Wake Up America Obama Supports A Fascist Regime In Egypt”, and “America Support Killers of the Egyptian People.” One would expect such pointed accusations to inspire some impulse toward conciliation and consideration of the protestors’ grievances on the part of the Obama administration. Such an assumption would be gravely mistaken, however. Since the onset of these protests, the Obama administration’s only response has been Anne Patterson’s urging the protestors not to take to the streets, but to work within the system, enact change over the long-run by establishing political parties and campaigns, and to avoid street action at all costs.


Despite the overwhelming size and vigor of the Egyptian protests, Obama has thus far only entrenched himself further in support of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, campaigned to prevent mobilization of protestors, and, in the course of a week, possibly set the tone for relations with whatever administration might follow Morsi’s should the protestors succeed in bringing on early elections. The American president whose early days as a young radical organizer have been widely written of and picked apart, who so inspired young Americans five years ago with promises of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’, and who openly sympathized with the nihilistic Occupy protests (themselves inspired by the first Egyptian uprising in 2011) is now implicitly standing with the oppressive, conservative regime of the Muslim Brotherhood.


President Obama would do well to recognize that those who sit on fences risk losing their balance and landing on the wrong side of history. Likewise, those who have supported him for the past five years should see that they cannot claim to have admired both the ideal that he presented as a candidate in 2008 and the president that he has revealed himself to be in 2013. The veneer of idealism and populism is gone, and beneath it is the gut-sinking spectacle of a calculating pragmatist without courage of convictions, a moral defense of Western values, or the peacemaking credentials that were once touted as his.


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