Washington’s exhaustive attempts to be viewed as a neutral player in Egypt’s coup are unraveling as pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood forces latch onto any evidence that America is against them.
That latest conspiracy theory: The United States bankrolled the military coup against Mohamed Morsy. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera unveiled documents detailing State Department programs that funneled money to groups associated with senior Egyptian opposition figures who protested against Morsy. Despite the fact that the U.S. funding appears to have stopped in 2011 and U.S. support of civil society and opposition groups was well known, critics of the United States heralded the article as evidence of America’s animus toward the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s false freedom agenda. "Defenders of Democracy huh?" tweeted one user.
Ironically, the accusations come after weeks of protestations from Morsy opponents that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, and by extension the United States, tacitly supported the Muslim Brotherhood as the country refused to vocally criticize the Brotherhood’s power grabs while discouraging street protests. The view was immortalized in a June speech Patterson gave in which she said she was "deeply skeptical" that street protests would produce better results than elections. "Rather than understand and remedy the perception that the U.S. is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Ambassador Patterson is continuing the age-old U.S. practice in Egypt of being the last man standing to support an authoritarian regime," wrote activist lawyer Dina Guirguis at the time.
So which is it? America the coup instigator or America the Islamist apologist? The administration repeatedly insists "we don’t take sides," but accounts from pro- and anti-Morsy demonstrations find common ground in the scapegoating of the United States.
Senior Brotherhood politician Mohamed El-Beltagi squarely blames the United States as being one of the villains "intervening in recognition and support of the military coup," as he told Reuters. "This restores the state of hatred towards those … American nations whose states always stand with despotic regimes against nations looking for freedom." FP‘s man in Cairo, David Kenner, who has witnessed a number of demonstrations, tells The Cable that "the preachers at the pro-Morsy rallies regularly claim the Americans and Zionists are supporting their enemies."
The reality is that the United States doesn’t want to jeopardize its influence in Egypt by siding with one group or another. That was plainly clear as White House and State Department officials went through a series of rhetorical gymnastics in recent days to avoid calling the military’s ouster of Morsy a coup. But the U.S. government’s annual allotment of $1.5 billion in assistance to Egypt means it will always loom large in the country’s politics. Amid the spin, there’s one thing that White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week you can take to the bank: "This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation."
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 |