Obama Blows It On Egypt, Big Time, Again

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egypt how obama blew itBy Jonathan Tobin

Once again the future of Egypt hangs in the balance. The ultimatum delivered yesterday to the Muslim Brotherhood government by the Egyptian military puts President Mohamed Morsi on notice that it will not tolerate repression of the protesters who have turned out in unprecedented numbers this week to demonstrate against the Islamist movement’s push to seize total power. Should Morsi agree to early elections, that might avert a confrontation. But given his determination to press on with his Islamist project and with a massive following of his own that could be unleashed on the streets, it’s not clear whether the president will try to call the army’s bluff or back down. No foreign power, even one with the leverage that the billions in annual aid to Egypt gives the United States, can solely determine the outcome of this standoff. But anything President Obama does or says at this crucial moment can have a disproportionate impact on what will happen. Thus, the news that President Obama is trying to play both ends against the middle in Egypt is a discouraging sign that once again the administration doesn’t understand the stakes involved in this struggle and where U.S. interests lie.

As CNN reports, the United States is sending out mixed messages to the competing factions. On the one hand, reportedly the president told Morsi that he should agree to new elections, a sign that finally the administration is stepping away from its embrace of the Brotherhood government. On the other hand, it has apparently also warned the military that the U.S. will not tolerate a move to unseat Morsi or to impose its own “road map” to a new government, as the army has warned it will do should the Egyptian president allow the 48-hour ultimatum to expire without agreeing to respect the demands of the protesters.

While it is clear the U.S. is in a difficult position, Obama’s attempt to thread the needle in Cairo may well wind up leaving America with the worst of both worlds. As it did in 2011 when its equivocal response to the Arab Spring protests helped dump Mubarak while at the same time alienating the Egyptian people, the administration has not made clear its priorities. After a year in which the actions of both Washington and Ambassador Anne Patterson have left the impression that President Obama is firmly committed to supporting Morsi, the threat of an aid cutoff if the military acts to curb the Brotherhood may have far more resonance that its sotto voce whispers about new elections. The result is that by refusing to fully support the military’s efforts to prevent Morsi from consolidating power, the United States may be missing another opportunity to prevent Egypt from slipping irrevocably into Islamist tyranny.
From the start of the Arab Spring protests, President Obama has sought to portray himself as a supporter of those who wanted to overthrow authoritarian dictatorships in the Muslim world. This is a laudable impulse, but the practical effect of this policy has been to lend the legitimacy of U.S. backing to Islamist movements like the Brotherhood who used their superior organization to win the elections that followed Mubarak’s fall. Elections are important. But when voting takes place in the absence of a consensus in favor of democratic principles, it is often a poor barometer of genuine progress toward freedom. Like the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, the Brotherhood’s triumph at the ballot box wasn’t an indication that Egypt was on its way to democracy. As Morsi has proven over the course of the last year, it was merely a way station toward the Brotherhood’s plans to remake the country in its own image, something that horrified many moderate Muslims as well as secular and Christian Egyptians.

It should also have shocked an Obama administration that used its considerable influence over the Egyptian military to force them to stand aside and let Morsi and the Brotherhood take over the government last year. But now that the people have risen in numbers that dwarf the considerable protests that helped oust Mubarak, it is time for the United States to make it clear that what it wants is an end to the brief and unhappy experiment of Brotherhood rule.

President Obama has shown himself to be reluctant to throw America’s weight around when it comes to defending U.S. interests as opposed to those causes that can be portrayed as a gesture toward universal principles. Thus, he seems averse to anything that can be seen as repressing the will of the Egyptian people. But after a year of the Brotherhood’s efforts to undermine any checks and balances on its power, the demonstrators realize something that perhaps has eluded the president and his inner circle: this is probably Egypt’s last chance to oust Morsi before he completes the process of consolidating his power.

If the U.S. forces the Egyptian military to back down as it did last year, then it is highly unlikely that Morsi and the Brotherhood will ever be successfully challenged. Without the military behind them, the anti-Morsi protests could be repressed. More elections may follow, but if the Brotherhood is allowed to complete its conquest of the bureaucracy, the media and the military, then it is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to unseat them.

Much as he would like to avoid picking sides, the time is fast approaching when Obama must choose between his strange willingness to make common cause with the Brotherhood and its Turkish ally, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the need to help those who wish to prevent Egypt from sinking into an Islamist nightmare. In this case, ambivalence and nuance is not, as the administration seems to think, the same thing as effective strategy or a defense of U.S. interests. As Egypt heads toward the precipice, President Obama must make it clear that America will back those who seek to prevent a Brotherhood dictatorship. If he doesn’t, both history and the Egyptian people may never forgive him.


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  1. Mr. Tobin speaks with great wisdom about the results of Obama’s actions, but the gist of the article is that the results were unintended. I maintain that Obama sides with the Muslim radicals and only takes action against them when he must in order to maintain the charade.

    Obama believes that the U.S. has always overstepped its authority (he grew up in colonial Kenya) and now it’s time for the Muslim world to rule. Look at his actions in the light of a smart manipulator rather than a bumbling fool and it becomes obvious. From bowing to the Saudi prince to his hatred of Israel and England, his statements about loving the sound of Muslims being called to prayer, etc. ad nauseum. Try to look at him without preconceived notions, you’ll see that despite being a U. S. president, he never has our interests in mind.


  2. Jonathan Tobin only writes nonsense propaganda. Fox news, the wall street journal, the nytimes and the washington post all write the exact opposite from tobin.( and they bring quotes, not a reference to a cnn article reprting rhetorical guess)

    Wall Street Journal
    U.S. Blasts Morsi, Not Military

    Fox News
    The Obama administration as a whole is reluctant to get in the middle of
    the ongoing power struggle, for fear of giving a wink and a nod to a
    possible coup. The rumor mill is already rife with suggestions since the
    Egyptian military’s initial 48-hour ultimatum to Morsi followed a
    conversation between Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and his
    Egyptian counterpart.”

    “President Obama, at the end of his Africa trip in Tanzania, said Monday
    that America’s “commitment to Egypt has never been around any particular
    individual or party” but to a “process.””

    “It’s not our job to choose who Egypt’s leaders are. We do want to make
    sure all the voices were heard, and it is done in a peaceful way,” Obama

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also pushed back on reports that
    Obama pressed Morsi to call for early elections, calling those reports

    Throughout the turmoil, though, the Pentagon has issued few public

    “The U.S. is broadly looking for a peaceful end to this tension,”
    “reported that the Obama Adminstration was NOT supporting Morsi. A few examples”
    ” The Obama administration, which has been watching the crisis with increased worry, reiterated that it had taken no sides and hoped for a peaceful outcome. “We do, of course, remain very concerned about what we’re seeing on the ground,” a State Department spokeswoman, Jennifer R. Psaki, told reporters at a daily briefing. “And we do realize, of course, that is an extremel”
    this is all nonsense

  3. I think that the Egyptians should be applauded. If only the Germans of the 1930’s could have learned from what the Egyptians just did.


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