As Egypt’s top brass flirts with a military coup, the Obama administration’s reluctant support of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is exposing it to attacks from the right.
For months, liberal Egyptians have complained that the United States treated President Mohamed Morsy’s government with kid gloves as it implemented increasingly authoritarian reforms, from delaying parliamentary elections to forcing through a new constitution. Now, as the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to back down, Republicans are hammering the Obama administration for its Egypt policy. But they’re hitting from different angles: some don’t like what they see as administration support of an increasingly-authoritarian government in Cairo; others want to increase the amount of military aid to Egypt; while a third, fringe faction is sure that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the White House.
For a number of top Republicans in the House, it’s the White House’s tacit support of Morsy. "The Egyptian turmoil stems from the Morsy government’s predictable power grab, which the Obama Administration has been far too accepting of," Rep, Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells The Cable. "U.S. aid has failed to compel the Morsy government to undertake the political and economic reforms needed to avert this crisis."
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, offered a similar condemnation. "Unfortunately, the Obama administration thinks it can woo Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood just as it thinks it can negotiate with Iran’s Ayatollah," he told The Cable. "The United States must stand firm on its values and make clear our objectives in the region."
An early target in this week’s turmoil is U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who was denounced by anti-government activists last month after criticizing street protests and defending U.S. relations with Morsy.
"Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical," Patterson said at a seminar in Cairo. "Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs."
On Sunday, demonstrators held signs of Patterson’s face crossed out with red lines with the word "Hayzaboon," an insult akin to the word "crone." Now miffed Egyptian protesters aren’t the only ones Patterson will have to contend with. Republicans are sounding off too.
"The Ambassador’s remarks [were] a reflection of President Obama’s complete disregard for political reality and his administration’s failure to leverage our contacts within Egypt’s military and support efforts to steer Egypt away from Islamist radicalism," McCaul told The Cable.
Patterson, who is reportedly in line for a promotion as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, also came under criticism from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who said she appeared to "offer support for a regime with a rather checkered record of support for democratic processes and institutions."
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment, but at Monday’s daily briefing, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the anti-Patterson protest signs. "We find it abhorrent and reprehensible," Ventrell said. "The ambassador has very much stated U.S. policies." He added that "we don’t take sides," and that U.S. policy is "focused on the broader goal of reconciliation between the two groups."
Since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the U.S. has committed to a $1.3 billion annual package of military assistance to Egypt. Increasingly, this long-standing relationship has divided the neoconservative and anti-interventionist wings of the Republican foreign policy establishment. On the one side is Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who just months ago lobbied for an additional $480 million in budget assistance to Egypt. On the other side, is Sen. Rand Paul and a growing cadre of Republicans advocating for deeper cuts to foreign aid, with Egypt at top of the list.
"How can we have influence in troubled parts of the world when we cuddle up to regimes responsible for much of the trouble?" Paul said in a statement Monday. "The Obama administration announced in March that we no longer had enough money to continue giving White House tours due to the sequester. That same month, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Morsy and pledged $250 million in additional aid to Egypt."
Lastly, a fringe element of the Republican Party is opposed to Obama’s Egypt policy for a third reason: The insidious influence of Muslim Brotherhood "advisors" inside the White House. "Since this administration is advised by Muslim Brothers then of course they’re going to promote those in the Muslim Brotherhood," Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert told The Cable. Gohmert did not recycle his discredited allegation that former Clinton Aide Huma Abedin is in cahoots with the Brotherhood, but he did mention others who allegedly explain why the "government is supporting the wrong people." Some conspiracy theories die hard.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |