There seems to be something of a disconnect between who Egyptians think America is supporting, and who America actually is supporting in Cairo. In the U.S., story after story has been written about how the Obama Administration has bent over backwards not to call this latest change in government a “coup” and has been relatively muted in its reaction to the deaths of so many civilians – upwards of 1,000 in the last week alone.
Yet Egyptians remain convinced that President Obama is backing the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohamed Morsi. At a lunch at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence on Thursday, Dr. Mohamed Abou El-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, bluntly warned a small gathering of journalists and policy wonks that he fears, “America is losing Egypt…There is a very strong perception that they are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and they are against other parties,” he said.
The perception began even before the Egyptians elected Morsi, Abou el-Ghar said, when Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and 2008 GOP presidential nominee, met with members of the Muslin Brotherhood in February 2012 but not representatives from competing parties. The headlines were: U.S. Warms to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was furthered when U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson criticized Egypt’s military for interfering in July when opponents deposed Morsi. That view has become more widespread since, with the Pentagon’s decision to defer delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt and the Administration’s review of aid to Cairo.
The latest evidence of Obama’s purported proclivity towards the Brotherhood came in Thursday’s State Department briefing, which has made headlines in Egypt. In it, spokesman Jen Psaki says that the choice to detain of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is an “internal Egyptian legal matter,” but in the next breath calls for the release of Morsi, who is accused of many serious crimes. Egyptians took this as further evidence that America is intervening on behalf of the Brotherhood still:
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the release of former President Mubarak?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we have long said, with respect to the Mubarak trial and decisions made, this is an internal Egyptian legal matter, that it’s working its way through the Egyptian legal system. Beyond that, I don’t have more for you. I refer you to the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: Okay. So you have no feeling, no comment on the fact that the elected president, Morsi, is in prison and the former president who was accused of heinous crimes is actually out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken – and I know you and I even spoke about this just yesterday.
QUESTION: Now that it has happened, I mean –
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on Mr. Morsi remains the same. We believe there should be a process for his release. We’ve spoken frequently about our concerns about arbitrary arrests. And certainly, in order to have an inclusive process moving forward, an inclusive political process, we believe all parties need to have the opportunity to participate. It’s hard to do that when there are several members of one being detained.
Clearly, Obama doesn’t support the Brotherhood over the interim government. I’d argue he probably doesn’t support the interim government over the Brotherhood, either. Obama has said time and again that only the Egyptians can decide their future. But he may want to make it clear to Egyptians that he has no ulterior motives here and no secret preferences.