As the violent standoff over the future of Egypt continues, U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has become a lightning rod for critics of U.S. policy in the country.
The tip of the spear for U.S.-Egypt diplomacy, Patterson’s June 18 speech discouraging street protests has come to symbolize the administration’s inability to recognize the potency of Egypt’s liberal opposition. "Some say that street action will produce better results than elections," Patterson said. "To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical."
Now, with the Egyptian military’s take over of the country, observers fear the outbreak of widespread violence between Morsy’s Islamist supporters and moderate critics, and many wonder if the U.S. could’ve taken a harder line on the Brotherhood during its 10-month rule.
Patterson in particular resisted opportunities to criticize the Morsy government as it implemented increasingly authoritarian policies. In a memorable May interview with the Egyptian English-language news sit Ahram Online, she repeatedly dodged pointed questions about Morsy’s leadership. "The fact is they ran in a legitimate election and won," she said. "Of course it is challenging to be dealing with any new government. However, at the state institutional level, we are for instance still liaising with the same military and civil service personnel, and thus have retained the same long-established relations."
Republicans from Texas Senator Ted Cruz to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce have pounced on statements like these, increasingly seeing Patterson as the key implementer for a policy that at least offers tacit support to the Muslim Brotherhood.
"As opposition to Morsy coalesced around the Tamarod movement, the Obama administration missed the opportunity to support its efforts and further the vital interests of the United States without firing a shot," Cruz wrote in a Wednesday article for FP. "Instead, the sole priority seems to be to defuse the situation and preserve the status quo. Ambassador Patterson has assumed the leading role in implementing this policy, meeting with members of the opposition not to encourage them to pursue a true secular democracy in Egypt but to try to persuade them to tone things down."
The State Department, meanwhile, is fending off criticisms of Patterson, who is reportedly in line for a promotion as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. "The ambassador has very much stated U.S. policies," spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a Monday press briefing.
It didn’t help Patterson’s standing when she met with senior Brotherhood officials, the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat Al-Shater. For some liberal Egyptians, this was seens as nothing less than conspiring with the enemy. Now Egyptian protesters are carrying signs with the ambassador’s face crossed out.
That’s something "we find it abhorrent and reprehensible," Ventrell added. Between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition, "we don’t take sides."
Of course, it’s an incredibly difficult needle Patterson is forced to thread. Washington needs to maintain constructive relations with Egypt given U.S. interests in the region, no matter who is in charge in Egypt. And others in Egypt will quickly defend her, such as Mohamed El-Menshawy, who took to the pages of Ahram Online to support her last week.
"In general, an ambassador’s job includes representing their country, presenting its view on critical issues in the host country, as well as participating in decision making back home by giving their opinion, sending reports and making suggestions," he wrote. "The US ambassador’s predictions about the difficulties of democratic transition were correct, but she could never imagine that she herself would become a target for many in both Islamic and non-Islamic political forces."