A bid by the two US senior Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to bridge the discord in Cairo fell flat this week. Interim President Adli Mansour announced Wednesday, Aug. 6, that foreign diplomacy had ended in failure after “unacceptable interference in our internal affairs.”
Indeed, the semi-official Al Ahram made it clear that both the feuding parties in Egypt had had enough of foreign meddling in their affairs.
The senators put the generals’ backs up by referring to the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, a year after he was elected, as a coup d’etat and Muslim Brotherhood detainees as “political prisoners.” There was no chance of including the Brothers in the interim government, as the American lawmakers demanded.
On the other side of the fence, the US senators failed to persuade the ousted Muslim Brotherhood to end their sit-ins in central Cairo in support of Morsi’s reinstatement and save their adherents from being dispersed by force.
The US lawmakers’ stay for an extra day proved just as fruitless as the five days spent in Cairo by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
He flew out empty-handed Tuesday, Aug. 5, although he was assisted in his mission of mediation between Egypt’s military and Muslim Brotherhood by United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zahed, his Qatari counterpart Khalid Al-Attiyah and a European delegation.
Extraordinary US efforts to save the Muslim Brotherhood
DEBKA Weekly’s Mideast sources report that Burns decided to quit after Defense Minister and strongman Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi turned down his last compromise proposal to cancel the trials of six top Brotherhood leaders due to begin on Aug. 26 and free them from custody along with Morsi, who would go into European exile.
El-Sisi flatly refused to hear of any Egyptian politician being allowed to claim he was the country’s legitimate president from a foreign country. “It wouldn’t be long before Morsi set up a government-in-exile,” he told the American diplomat.
The hours the diplomats spent with Brotherhood leaders were just as unproductive. They refused to make any concessions on their demand to turn the clock back to the moment before the military coup.
The Obama administration went to extraordinary lengths to rescue the Muslim Brotherhood and reintroduce the movement to Egypt’s political process for the sake of moving the country back to democracy.
Five far-reaching consequences may be counted from this all-out bid and its collapse – with regard to the way the United States is perceived in the Arab world:
1. The Obama administration’s unreserved commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is taken as extending to Brotherhood branches in Libya, Jordan and its offshoot, the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.
Widening rift between Washington and Arabian Gulf
2. By this policy, the United States has placed itself in direct opposition to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the young emir of Qatar, who are wholeheartedly behind Gen. El-Sisi and support his plans for Egypt with political and financial largesse. For the first time since the outbreak of the Arab Revolt or Arab Spring three years ago, the Arab Gulf kingdoms face America from over a high Middle East fence.
3. Gulf and Egyptian rulers bitterly resent what they perceive as Obama administration’s application of a double standard in attitudes towards Egypt and Turkey. Whereas American mediators squeezed Egyptian military rulers hard to rehabilitate the Muslim Brotherhood and restore it to the political mainstream, Washington had nary a word of rebuke for the show trial staged by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Monday, Aug. 4, the trial ended with long jail sentences handed down for dozens of the 275 ex-generals, journalists, lawyers, writers and political opponents accused of the alleged "Ergenekon Plot” to overthrow his pro-Islam government.
The accused plotters were lumped together and branded traitors and terrorists on the strength of what the government’s opponents called flimsy evidence. Many such opponents and critics, including businessmen, writers and journalists, have found themselves behind lock and key under the Erdogan regime. They accuse him of conducting a witch hunt against critics.
If the Obama administration finds that kind of regime acceptable in terms of democratic rule, why can’t it live with Gen. El-Sisi? Many Arabs who pose this question view Erdogan as a more modern verson of the Brotherhood but no less sinister. Yet the Obama administration sides with both.
Dedicated to preventing a second Libya in Egypt
4. Libya is viewed in the region as a vivid demonstration of the unconsidered pitfalls of the Arab Spring fostered by the US president. Instead of gaining a stable regime after Muammar Qaddafi’ demise, Libya has fallen into the hands of an unruly bunch of warring militias, some of them part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. No Arabian Gulf ruler wants to see the same calamity befalling the most populous Arab country and the natural regional leader, and are certain this would happen if Obama had his way and the Muslim Brotherhood regained power in Cairo.
5. Israel has opted for emulating Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and cast its vote for Gen. El-Sisi and his plans for Egypt, with a contribution of vital intelligence to those plans. The Netanyahu government has accordingly put Israel on the same side as a cluster of Arab governments which are standing against the Obama administration’s policies for the Middle East.
Wednesday, Aug. 6, US Sen. McCain commented angrily that the US “cannot support Egypt that is not moving to a democracy.” In an interview with CBS TV, he warned that Egypt was “just days or weeks away from all-out bloodshed.
Those comments are seen by the group of nations supporting Egypt’s military rulers as expressions of frustration, rather than of an understanding of the process which the country is undergoing. When the two senators depart Cairo, they will leave behind a military leader determined to thrust the Muslim Brotherhood aside with hefty support in the region.