Egypt: U.S. Aided Mohamed Morsi’s Rise to Power

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from the January 17, 2013 blog post by Ambassador John Price.

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“Morsi has usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh, a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences” (Mohammed El Baradei).

The Obama Administration supported the Arab Spring uprisings, which led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed and found a new home in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak was deposed and imprisoned. In Libya Islamists hunted down and killed Muammar Gaddafi. However in the aftermath of the regime changes, neither of the countries has seen stability or a better quality of life for their people.

What is certain, the U.S. lost a diplomat and three other Americans in the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. In a PBS interview on January 8, 2013, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers stated there were over seventy Islamists involved in the attack, including Islamists from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey, and Jordan. Only one perpetrator, Ali Harzi a Tunisian, was apprehended and released last week by the Tunisian authorities for lack of evidence. She noted “The authorities said that they had strong suspicions that he was involved in the attack”, but the FBI and Libyan authorities were not allowed to question Harzi. An interrogation might have led to valuable information and possible arrests of more Islamists.

The deposed dictators had their detractors, but there was also a more peaceful and secure environment affecting daily life, I was told. The uprisings were spurred on by unemployment, food shortages, and human rights abuses, which the U.S. saw as an opportunity for regime change, to introduce democratic institutions.

Ousting Hosni Mubarak, our U.S. ally for over thirty years, did not bring democracy to Egypt. Mohamed Morsi, a conservative Islamist, wants to take the country in a narrow religious direction, where rule under Islamic law is eminent. In an Islamic state the people will suffer more than before with social injustices, and poverty conditions spiraling out of control. The suppression of the press and limited freedom of speech has only added to the image of a police state.

The State Department recently defended the regime change stating, “It was the process that matters, not the ideologies of those taking part,” noting that “Along the way we trained and gave guidance to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist candidates in the electioneering process.”

The election of Mohamed Morsi was a major accomplishment for the Muslim Brotherhood that had been trying to gain power since 1928. The freedom seeking revolutionaries had chanted ‘change’, which the U.S. interpreted as our form democracy. In reality the ultraconservative Salafis and Islamists, participating in the uprising, only wanted freedom to politicize their narrow theology and take control of Egypt. The orthodox tenets of Islam that they espouse are alien to the tenets of democracy.

The Obama Administration embarked on regime change without an endgame plan. Electing Morsi was a win for the Islamist movement, but a loss to the liberals and secularists who wanted to establish democratic institutions.  Morsi wanted absolute control, and is pushing to create an Islamic state ruled under Islamic law.

The Muslim Brotherhood is well-funded, and has active branches in a number of Arab countries. As the divide grows we can expect more bloodshed in Egypt, and across the Maghreb. Uprisings will also occur in the Arabian Peninsula, inspired by these Islamists, which will lead to further destabilization of the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood dominates daily life in Egypt, expanding its grip on civil society with the recent implementation of an Islamic constitution.  Mohamed Morsi has also achieved his goal of marginalizing the military and judicial system; reducing any opposition in the parliament; eclipsing ethnic and religious diversity in the governing process. Anti-American rhetoric has surfaced, and becoming more prevalent as the U.S. is seen as Israel’s partner.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s control has become a concern over peace in the region, and honoring the Israeli Peace Accord of 1979. Morsi has shown his disdain for Israel, by allowing al-Qaeda linked Islamists to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, which is a threat to Israel’s security. The Muslim Brotherhood has underpinned Hamas by supplying financial assistance to fight Israel. The U.S. needs to seriously consider cutting off the billions of dollars in military assistance given to Egypt, and only provide economic and humanitarian assistance that will directly reach the impoverished people.

The Obama administration recently lauded Morsi for mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Such praise only emboldened Morsi to apply stricter religious precepts, and turn Egypt closer to becoming an Islamic state. Mohammed ElBaradei, the well-respected Egyptian reform leader, stated that Morsi’s power grab was tantamount to a dictatorship, “a major blow to the revolution”, condemning the concentration of executive, legislative, and judicial powers.

Without democracy being achieved in Libya, we need to question whether the regime change was worth the loss of four American lives in Benghazi. Our military incursion, from the inception, was without an endgame plan. We inspired a new generation of Islamist extremists, and unleashed the suppressed Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, we placed Israel in the precarious situation of having to deal with a hostile government in Egypt.

Mohamed Morsi has a history of anti-Israel statements.  In a 2010 video interview, Morsi made numerous anti-Semitic remarks.  In July 2007 he stated that resistance was the only way to liberate the land from the Jews. In April 2004, as a member of the Egyptian parliament, Morsi stated that he wanted to void the peace treaty with Israel. In September 2003 Morsi reportedly sent a letter to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declaring his solidarity with Hamas, in its goal to destroy Israel. Morsi has shown for a long time his hatred of Jews, espousing the annihilation of the ‘Zionist state’.

The Arab Spring which brought about regime change, also caused the Sahel region to become destabilized. Islamist extremists have infiltrated a number of countries in West Africa, including Mali which is on the verge of being overrun by al-Qaeda linked Islamists.

In the Arabian Peninsula the Muslim Brotherhood has a major presence. They will continue to support Hamas in its fight with Israel– an island of democracy– surrounded by unfriendly neighbors. Egypt can be the linchpin for peace and security in the region—but Mohamed Morsi will need to change his direction, and become a more tolerant and inclusive leader. He needs to move quickly to establish democratic institutions. If not he will just become another ‘despot’, and eventually be deposed.

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