Saturday, 26 November 2011

Shift in tone at White House over Egypt

Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Egypt?  Until recently, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to praise the Egyptian military for its stabilizing influence and its apparent progress in moving toward a national election.  CNN reports that the White House has had a “major shift” in tone regarding the generals:
Gee, who was it that said that quick elections in Egypt would be a disaster? Unfortunately, by pushing to have Hosni Mubarak resign just eight days into the Tahrir Square protests, Barack Obama boxed Egypt into a corner. Either hold quick elections that only the Muslim Brotherhood would be organized enough to exploit, or have the military keep power for an extended period of time and continue to stir up unrest in Egypt. The notion that “the street” should determine Egypt’s course is even more fraught with peril, as Ynet News reported today (via JWF):
A Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo’s most prominent mosque Friday turned into a venomous anti-Israel protest, with attendants vowing to “one day kill all Jews.”
Some 5,000 people joined the rally, called to promote the “battle against Jerusalem’s Judaization.” The event coincided with the anniversary of the United Nations’ partition plan in 1947, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state.
However, most worshippers who prayed at the mosque Friday quickly left it before the Muslim Brotherhood’s rally got underway. A group spokesman urged attendants to remain for the protest, asking them not to create a bad impression for the media by leaving.
Speakers at the event delivered impassioned, hateful speeches against Israel, slamming the “Zionist occupiers” and the “treacherous Jews.” Upon leaving the rally, worshippers were given small flags, with Egypt’s flag on one side and the Palestinian flag on the other, as well as maps of Jerusalem’s Old City detailing where “Zionists are aiming to change Jerusalem’s Muslim character.”
Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen, as well as Palestinian guest speakers, made explicit calls for Jihad and for liberating the whole of Palestine. Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that “one day we shall kill all the Jews” was uttered at the site. Meanwhile, businessmen in the crowd were urged to invest funds in Jerusalem in order to prevent the acquisition of land and homes by Jews.
Yeah, that’s a great outcome for the US — trading Mubarak for a short-lived democracy that will catapult the Muslim Brotherhood into power and touch off a new war with Israel.  Good luck moving through the Suez Canal next year!
The generals in Egypt have decided to keep power for a little while longer with former Mubarak figures, but not because they didn’t try to get some reformers to work with them:
Egypt’s embattled military rulers appointed a new prime minister Friday as fiery crowds of supporters and opponents took to the streets, exposing the severity of a split over the leading role of the nation’s long-revered armed forces on the eve of parliamentary elections.
As the largest crowd of the week-long protests gathered in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that Egypt’s military chiefs step aside, thousands of angry Egyptians demonstrated near downtown in support of the generals and “stability.” A small pro-military group also turned out in the port city of Alexandria, where pitched clashes between anti-military council protesters and security forces continued. …
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters poured into Tahrir Square, the birthplace of what most are calling Egypt’s unfinished revolution. They rejected the appointment of Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, who had served as prime minister during Hosni Mubarak’s presidency. He was asked to form a new cabinet to replace the caretaker government that resigned this week amid deadly clashes between security forces and rock-throwing demonstrators.
The military chiefs chose Ganzouri after holding intensive discussions with more prominent figures such as Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief, and Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who formerly headed the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both turned down the job after demanding broad powers, according to political figures briefed on the meetings.
In Washington, the White House called Friday for the new government to be “empowered with real authority immediately” and for elections to go ahead “expeditiously,” leading to a full transfer of power to a civilian government. The U.S. administration has been hesitant to fully support protesters against the Egyptian military, an institution that receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Is military rule a preferable outcome?  Not at all.  However, we should have tried to work through Mubarak first rather than rush to throw him aside.  Meanwhile, the State Department insisted for months of brutal repression in Syria that Bashar Assad was a “reformer” with whom we could work despite his alliance with Iran, while we castigated and abandoned one of the rare Arab leaders willing to keep peace with Israel.  Whatever that was, it certainly wasn’t “smart power,” and this outcome was predictable.

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