A good friend of mine objected to to my recent post on Egypt.
He felt that I was overstating the American influence over the Egyptian army. In his view, the US was caught off guard when the army refused to protect Mubarak almost two years ago and the events of the last couple of days were no different: he was convinced that the Egyptian army chief General al-Sisi decided to depose Muhamed Mursi, the Egyptian President with little or no interference from the US.
I wish that were true.
The reality is that the Egyptian army will not do much without getting prior authorization from the US.
In this instance, besides the two calls placed to al-Sisi (Martin Dempsey and Chuck Hagel) that I mentioned in my last post, American ambassador Anne Patterson tried to persuade the Brotherhood to make concessions in order to avoid a coup. So much so that the protesters got the impression that the US was working on behalf of Mursi. But sadly for everyone concerned, it did not work.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egyptian protesters were infuriated that Ambassador Patterson met with Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat El Shater for three hours on the eve of the crisis. But the real problem was not the meeting, but that she was unable to persuade Shater and the Brotherhood to make the real concessions that might have prevented this crisis.Today, the New York Times provides a more detailed picture.
As President Mohamed Morsi huddled in his guard’s quarters during his last hours as Egypt’s first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country’s top generals, senior advisers with the president said.
The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Mr. Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors. [my emphasis]Mursi said no, partly because he was convinced that General al-Sisi was a devout Muslim who would never topple an Islamist President. Part of that trust goes back to the early phases of the Tahrir Square struggle where the army and the Brotherhood worked together to protect the anti-Mubarak uprising. (And that's according to the New York Times.)
Mursi's answer was relayed to the American ambassador.
His top foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the United States ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, to say that Mr. Morsi refused. When he returned, he said he had spoken to Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said. [my emphasis]
“Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,” an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country’s Western patron, “Mother America.”
The article also notes that prior to that point the Ambassador met repeatedly with Mursi's advisers.
Mr. Morsi’s advisers had meetings with Ms. Patterson and her deputy as well as a phone call with Ms. Rice, the national security adviser. Mr. Morsi’s advisers argued that ousting the president would be “a long term disaster” for Egypt and the Arab world because people would “lose faith in democracy.” They said it would set off an explosion in the streets that they could not control.
And they argued that the United States was implicated: “Nobody who knows Egypt is going to believe a coup could go forward without a green light from the Americans.” [my emphasis]At that point, despite Mursi's oblivious posture, some of his advisers must have felt that a coup was imminent.
At a meeting with General Sisi at 2 p.m. the next day, Mr. Morsi’s advisers said that they had their coalition’s blessing to accept the earlier concessions the general had suggested before the protest.But four hours later, the General informed them that the opposition rejected Mursi's last minute concessions.
Mr. Morsi’s team did not know who the general actually consulted and the young protest leaders and some other opposition leaders said they did not know either. But that night Mr. Morsi delivered a fiery address denouncing his opponents as traitorous conspirators.
General Sisi later publicly cited the speech as a turning point in his decision to act.In light of the previous negotiations, I read this last paragraph as the speech was the turning point not for the General but for the administration as they decided that Mursi was hopeless. That he would rather become a martyr than give in to these demands. And gave General Sisi the green light.
For the record, I think it was a stupid move that will backfire. They should have kept the pressure on and get him in a broad coalition.
At this point, no one can govern Egypt without the Islamists and certainly without the Brotherhood. Already Mohamed ElBaradei's appointment as Prime Minister was contested by the Salafist Party and immediately withdrawn by the acting President Adly Mansour. They may still go ahead with it but it is a strong sign.
Moreover, as I noted in my last post, I don't think Egypt's structural economic problems had anything to do with Mursi's mismanagement and they cannot be solved by a caretaker government.
I just hope that the US and the Egyptian army have a decent plan to insert the Islamists quickly into the political process.
One last thing: please, oh please, find a way to spell Arabic names in a uniform fashion. Mursi, Morsi, Morsy? Maybe it was Morissey?
After decades of Kaddafi, Qaddafi, Qaddafy, Gaddafy, Western media ought to know better.
About 50 members of Muslim Brotherhood were killed when the army opened fire on protesters.
If they continue on this path, with every passing day, it will get harder to reintegrate Egyptian Islamists in to the political process.
And Egypt is not Algeria: it is no longer possible to suppress the Islamists violently. Sooner or later, they will have to be part of the political class.