Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why is Obama winking at the military coup in Egypt?

James North

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and
Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi
A first sign that the Obama administration will accept the military coup in Egypt was a mealy-mouthed statement from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Friday, June 16. Panetta said he had called Egypt’s real ruler, Field Marshall Tantawi, and “highlighted the need to move forward expeditiously with Egypt’s political transition, including conducting new legislative elections as soon as possible.”

Panetta did not even make a veiled warning about cutting off the $1.3 billion the U.S. gives the Egyptian military every year. What’s more, Egypt does not need “new legislative elections;” it already has a working parliament – I watched lines of Egyptians voting for it in Cairo last December – which was doing just fine until the Supreme Court, a military tool, dissolved it.

The Obama administration could have demanded that this already-elected Parliament be restored. But, no. Once the military saw it could get away with this first stage of its coup, it seized even more power. So even though Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, almost certainly won the just-completed presidential balloting, the Egyptian journalist Sara Khorshad writes in today’s New York Times that, “Mr. Morsi will be a toothless figurehead under the thumb of an authoritarian military council that doesn’t seem likely to relinquish power anytime soon.”

The U.S. government had already gone along with earlier anti-democratic moves to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from power. The Brotherhood’s first candidate for the presidency, Khairat El-Shater, was a prominent businessman with recognized broad appeal. But back in April, the ruling armed forces council barred El-Shater on the grounds that election rules require that candidates must be released from prison for 6 years before they can run.

How do you say Catch-22 in Arabic? The Mubarak regime had imprisoned El-Shater for 4 years, until 2011, even though he, like the Brotherhood itself, had never used or advocated violence. So his reward for being a nonviolent political prisoner under the old regime --  in all, he was jailed for 12 years -- was that he was disqualified from running, and the Brotherhood had to replace him with the colorless Morsi. Washington made no noise about this injustice. Contrast this non-reaction with, say, how the State Department would pipe up if someone it doesn’t like, such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, used a similar maneuver to sideline a popular potential opponent.

What’s ironic here is that the Muslim Brotherhood is no threat to American interests at all. The movement is a conservative advocate of capitalism. What’s more, the Brotherhood is on the front line in the battle against Al-Qaeda and other violent extremists.

The Brotherhood has suggested that it would review the Mubarak regime’s close collaboration with Israel, even though it says it will maintain the peace treaty. Could the Israel lobby explain why the Obama administration is letting the Egyptian generals overturn a peaceful, democratic revolution?

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