- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
It’s not easy being Robert Ford. The U.S. ambassador to Syria braved attacks on the American embassy in Damascus by pro-Assad mobs, and even risked his life by traveling to the city of Hama and northern Syria. Now, he has reportedly been recommended as the next American envoy in Cairo — but Egyptians have already organized a campaign against his nomination.
Anti-Americanism soared to new heights in Egypt following the June 30 protests against President Mohamed Morsy. The primary target was U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, whom protesters accused of backing the Islamist government — many carried signs referring to her as a hayzeboon, a word that translates roughly to old hag. Posters in Tahrir Square also blamed President Barack Obama for supporting terrorism — a reference, for the anti-Morsy crowd, to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now, it looks like Ford is in for the same treatment. A report posted on a Canadian conspiracy website accusing Ford of running “death squads” in Syria and Iraq has gone viral in Egypt: The daily al-Masry al-Youm reported the allegations credulously, without any attempt to establish the veracity of the claims. Egyptian reporter Yosri Fouda, one of the most trusted television presenters in the country, also tweeted a link to the report, calling it “a warning for all of Egypt.”
On Twitter, popular hashtags “No to Robert Ford” and “We refuse the American ambassador in Egypt” channeled popular anger at U.S. diplomacy. Egyptians described Ford as “a CIA man”; an heir to CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt, who helped orchestrate the coup in Iran in 1953; and the instigator of everything from the Lebanese civil war to the Bahraini revolution.
Some of the anti-Ford graphics, like the one above, are even more outlandish. In addition to implying that Ford supported Shiite militias in Iraq and spearheaded the armed insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the American diplomat stands accused of “playing a serious role” in the emergence of al Qaeda in Algeria. “Mayday: A new Satan is arriving for the destruction of the nation,” reads another graphic.
Ford had reportedly asked to step down as Syria envoy because he was “exhausted” from the years-long uprising. It doesn’t look like his possible posting in Cairo is going to provide him with much of a breather.