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August 05, 2013

Egyptians Skeptical About US Mediation Efforts

by Elizabeth Arrott, Edward Yeranian

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are in Egypt, joining efforts by top U.S. diplomat William Burns to broker an end to the standoff between Egypt’s military-backed government and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The U.S. role as honest broker, however, has come under fire from both sides.

In deeply divided Egypt, Islamists reject the military and the military demonizes the Islamists. The two are united, though, in their anger toward the United States.

Armed Forces Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi told The Washington Post that America turned its back on Egyptians, and "they won't forget that."

The general played on a common perception that the U.S. was slow to support the ouster of Islamist president Morsi because it backs the Muslim Brotherhood.

US diplomatic view

That isn't how the Brotherhood sees it, however, especially after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in on the military's intervention.

"To run the country, there's a civilian government," he said last week. "In effect, they were restoring democracy."

The comments elicited contempt from Islamists across Egypt.  
 
"John Kerry and America are the ones who made the coup, they planned it and carried it out," said prominent cleric Safwat Hegazy. "So what else can you expect from him?"
 
Even before the recent upheaval, anti-American sentiment was growing.  Hesitation to clearly back one side or the other during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak alienated both protesters and the old guard.

Every ruling group since has warned of "foreign hands" playing a sinister role in Egyptian politics, and by early this year, polls suggested a majority of Egyptians viewed the U.S. unfavorably.

Islamist activists, gathered at a trade union center Monday to discuss the fate of Morsi, blamed the U.S. for what they claim is support for rival secular parties.

One activist said the U.S. administration has been supporting what he calls a “counter-revolution” for the past two and a half years, in addition to backing the overthrow of Morsi. He predicted that Morsi supporters will prevail during Ramadan.

Some Egyptians say there is a lack of understanding and transparency about how the nation conducts its international affairs.
 
"Under Mubarak that was taboo," said political analyst Hisham Kassem. "You were not allowed to be part of that. That was supposed to be a dialogue that took place behind closed doors. So right now it's natural that the conspiracy theories prevail."

America loses luster
 
And even as America loses its luster as a champion of Egyptian popular interests, it's role as generous ally also is fading.

For decades, Washington sent more than $1 billion a year to its strategic partner in the Middle East. Then, in early July, Gulf nations pledged $12 billion to post-Morsi leaders, dwarfing U.S. financial leverage.    

Still, political analyst Kassem believes the rough patch in U.S.-Egyptian relations will pass. "I can see this is something that will be repaired, but over a few years, not at present," he said.

In the short run, the U.S. administration seems intent on mediating the crisis.

A British newspaper, The Independent, reports that the negotiations are focusing on a deal that would have Morsi present his resignation on state TV. It was not clear what might be offered in exchange.

Al Arabiya TV reported that Brotherhood negotiators were demanding that the group's deputy leader, Khairat el-Shater, be released from prison as part of any deal.

On Sunday, Egypt's judiciary announced that Shater and the group's spiritual voice, Mohammed Badie, would be put on trial for violence surrounding the storming of Brotherhood headquarters last June.

U.S. diplomat Burns met with Shater early Monday in a Cairo prison after talks with Egypt's interim government leaders over the weekend.

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