The Obama Administration’s influence in Egypt has evaporated as Egypt’s “Arab Spring” hopes for a democratic transition have wilted during a summer of rising violence. Egypt’s army, which ousted the unpopular, autocratic and anti-Western President Mohamed Morsi in a July 3 coup, turned a deaf ear to Washington’s call for political accommodation with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, just as Morsi ignored calls for political power-sharing before the coup.
Egyptian officials maintain that they sought a political compromise with Morsi but were repeatedly rebuffed: “We bent over backwards to bring in the Brotherhood,” one told the Wall Street Journal. But Morsi, counting on the Obama Administration has continued support, stubbornly refused to compromise on his demand to be reinstated as president. This was something that the military would never agree to after Egyptians staged the largest political demonstrations in human history on June 30, calling for Morsi’s resignation.
The Obama Administration unrealistically pinned its hopes on a political reconciliation based on dreaming. Morsi continued to act as if his narrow 2012 election victory entitled him to ram his Islamist agenda down Egyptian throats. And the army, backed by strong popular support, rejected any compromise that would restore Morsi or his Muslim Brotherhood cronies to power.
The Administration failed to appreciate the degree to which Egyptian politics is an extreme sport with lethal consequences in which compromise is often perceived as weakness. It should not have been surprised that Morsi, never a genuine democratic leader, acted increasingly like a dictator after assuming office.
By failing to publicly criticize and penalize his power grabs, the Administration appeared to be an enthusiastic backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and lost its credibility with many Egyptians—particularly secular, Christian, and liberal democratic leaders who should have been natural allies of the United States.
In despair, many Egyptians publicly called for the army to intervene, which it did on July 3. Now Egypt has plunged into a violent political confrontation that has claimed more than 600 lives.
The Muslim Brotherhood has called for massive demonstrations today as part of a “Friday of anger.” Its supporters continue to attack government buildings, police stations, and the churches, businesses, and homes of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.