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US had final say in Egyptian coup

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Protest outside presidential palace July 1 AP photo by Hassan Ammar
Protest outside presidential palace July 1. AP photo by Hassan Ammar

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

If there’s any doubt that we live in an Orwellian National Security State universe, you haven’t been keeping up with the news.  1984 could just as well be 2013 – The Sequel.

As Edward Snowden remains in the Moscow airport for outing the kind of surveillance that boggles even  the 1984 mind, the New York Times reports on the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to President Morsi’s ouster a few days ago.   To say that America was in the coup d’état mix understates its influence.  According to the Times, United States officials had the final say.

Reading the Times article one wonders if Susan Rice or Barack Obama – or our soon-to-be anointed ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power – have read another still relevant novel,The Ugly American.  If they haven’t they should.  They’re providing material for yet another round of anti-Americanism.

In the final hours – right there on the phone – Rice and the American Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Peterson, are proposing to Morsi that he accept life as a Presidential figurehead rather than be thrown out on the street.  Morsi refuses and the reporters for the Times are stuck.  Was Morsi an indigenous Egyptian hero for refusing American dictates or simply a power grabbing Islamic idiot?

How America is referred to by Morsi, his aides, the military and everyone on every side of the political equation is telling. The American government is Mother – as in Mother America.

Here’s how the Times reports the last offer and conversation between the Americans and Morsi’s aides:

[Morsi’s] top foreign policy advisor, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the United States ambassador, Anne Peterson, to say that Mr. Morsi refused.  When he returned, he had spoken to Susan Rice, the national security advisor, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said. 

Now the Guardian reports that the announcement of Mohammed ElBaradei as the new Prime Minister has been put on hold due to American pressure.  Of course, American officials deny this in no uncertain terms:

 ”The United States categorically rejects the false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt’s transition should proceed. We remain committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, economy opportunity, and dignity. But the future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people.”

It goes without saying that the future of Egypt can only be determined by Egyptians – with America on the phone calling the shots.  And it also goes without saying that progressive forces in Egypt who sided with the coup – that wasn’t really a coup in their contribution to our Orwellian dialogue – also wants America on the phone calling the shots.  For both sides the only question is whether the United States is going to act in their Egyptian interest.

Why are progressive forces also depending on America?  At least from my reading and encounters, progressive forces are afraid of their fellow citizens and what they might decide for Egypt’s future.  They’re afraid of Islam, at least the way it is currently mobilized in the Arab world.  They don’t trust the non-American outside forces that seek to influence Egypt’s future.

A conundrum of epic proportions, to be sure.

I could be wrong but it seems that Egyptians of all political stripes are betting on their preferred America because they are afraid of each other and their neighbors.

Is there something wrong with this (American) picture?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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17 Responses

  1. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    July 7, 2013, 1:42 pm

    There’s everything wrong with covert power, because it uses its power to sustain itself, rationalizes it like Plato and Straussians due to superior knowledge – the ability see out of the cave, not just the shadows on the cave wall, and leads inevitably to abuse. It is totally un-American, in that the secret decision-making of the British Empire was one of the evils justifying independence, open records one of the requirements of the Constitution, checks and balances more important than expediency at the core of our institutions. The idea that Egypt, or Iran, or Guatemala, or Viet Nam, or wherever else we’ve engaged in covert coups – acts of war reserved by the constitution to Congress – should have their governments selected in secrecy by powers in Washington not even subject to checks and balances in the US, is absurd. Our republic is behaving like an empire run in secrecy by covert operations that have lying to the public, even under oath, as part of their founding charters, to secure “plausible deniability” to our figureheads. Empire is the enemy of the republic, anathema to the founding principles. Our ideals of western democracy are becoming ironic sheep’s clothing on the ruthless pursuit and application of power.

  2. American
    American
    July 7, 2013, 2:49 pm

    ”I could be wrong but it seems that Egyptians of all political stripes are betting on their preferred America because they are afraid of each other and their neighbors.”’>>

    lol….I dont think so. I think for lack of one directon and love of throwing really big protests and calling it success—- they dont know what they are getting is America.

    This revolt was made up of all kinds—the poor for economic reasons, the middle class for what they saw as Morsi’s incompetence in running the country, the liberals for fear of a too radical Islam dictatorship, and then the remnants of the previous regime who wanted the status quo back..

    And the US took advantage of all of this splintered lack of direction.
    You can hear the US saying…….”those Egyptans boy!, they really do know how to turn out for protests! …why dont we help them have another one and see what we can get?’

  3. Walid
    Walid
    July 7, 2013, 3:47 pm

    “could be wrong but it seems that Egyptians of all political stripes are betting on their preferred America because they are afraid of each other and their neighbors.”

    Not really a good assumption; from the TV interviews of people in both pro and anti Morsi squares gatherings for the past 3 days, almost everybody from both sides is blaming America for Egypt’s woes.

    Looks like the US made a lot of wrong calls on this one; first it backed the Brothers to enter and win the elections and to get Morsi into the presidency, then it sold them out. The anti-Morsi crowd is hating the US for having given them a year of misery and repression under the Brothers. Looks like neither group wants anything to do with the US. Tunisia and Turkey are next in line.

  4. just
    just
    July 7, 2013, 4:17 pm

    Where did we put our soul? We have lost any “moral standing” that we were clinging to. Our compass is spinning out of control.

    Thank you Marc.

  5. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    July 7, 2013, 5:05 pm

    It’s hard to gauge the extent of US influence. According to some reports, for instance, it was the Nour Party and Jamaa Islamia that vetoed El-Baradei as prime minister. As the US didn’t want him either, that was enough to tilt the balance against him. We can’t know whether one of those factors would have sufficed on its own.

    It seems that the US power holders prefer the generals to have as much control as possible. They know that the generals have a direct material interest in towing the US line. So they can rely on them, while they no doubt feel they can’t rely on inexperienced politicians. In formal terms El-Baradei and the “liberal” forces he represents may be closer to supposed “Western values” than either the generals or the Islamists. The problem is that the Egyptian liberals, unlike the US power holders, really are liberals! They believe in liberal ideals like equality before the law. The US power holders do not. For example, Egyptian liberals want to put military officers on trial for massacring civilians. Such ideas horrify US power holders, who favor legal immunity for powerful individuals (in the name of realism, compromise, and “looking to the future”).

    • gamal
      gamal
      July 7, 2013, 5:43 pm

      “It’s hard to gauge the extent of US influence.” yes it could be negligible, probably the USA is content to let developments take their natural course, its commitment to democracy is well known. American interests are paramount, along with those of their local clients to who can still demonstrate their utility, or its off to the Gulag like Morsi, a more penitent suitor for Washingtons affections could hardly be imagined, but as he didnt perform, off to the tower.

      Egyptians liberals, whether real or not are not going to achieve anything without the military, but then neither is anyone else, so its trebles all round in the Arab capitals of London, Washington, Bonn and Paris.

      A revolution in Egypt will necessarily be against the Army the once and current rulers, until the Military/Business ruling clique is defeated they will continue screwing over the people. Its quite a simple, if intractable, situation.

    • Donald
      Donald
      July 7, 2013, 6:15 pm

      “It seems that the US power holders prefer the generals to have as much control as possible.”

      “For example, Egyptian liberals want to put military officers on trial for massacring civilians. Such ideas horrify US power holders, who favor legal immunity for powerful individuals (in the name of realism, compromise, and “looking to the future”).”

      Whatever else one might think about events in Egypt, the statements above seems like pretty safe assumptions.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        July 7, 2013, 9:06 pm

        “It seems that the US power holders prefer the generals to have as much control as possible.”

        it seem pretty obvious, which is why ,military aid to Egypt has continued unabated and since before Mubarak was overthrown and why Israel are insisting it continues to flow to Egypt. It’s the same in Indonesia.

        Control the generals and you control the country and who runs it.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        July 7, 2013, 11:01 pm

        “For example, Egyptian liberals want to put military officers on trial for massacring civilians. Such ideas horrify US power holders, who favor legal immunity for powerful individuals (in the name of realism, compromise, and “looking to the future”).”

        I noted the other day that Mohamed ElBaradei had called for the prosecution of American and British officials on the same grounds and for a judgment from the ICJ on the question of reparations. That surely can’t make the Obama camp feel very warm and fuzzy about his selection as the Prime Minister.

        http://mondoweiss.net/2013/07/symbols-occupation-settlers.html#comment-575631

  6. Dan Crowther
    Dan Crowther
    July 7, 2013, 8:28 pm

    What i find interesting is the sign in background of the photo above, in english, that says “obama stop supporting the MB’s (muslim brotherhood’s) fascist regime.”

    when i see gene sharps tactics being used to decry “fascism” i get nervous…..

    • bilal a
      bilal a
      July 7, 2013, 11:52 pm

      @dan precisely. People on the ground there tell me the huge anti morsi crowds are comprised of liberal secuarlist youth ( a tiny fraction of the electorate ) , anti Islamist Copts organized via the churches which were closed for Jun 30, and a large component of paid ‘thug’. Recall the old regime used thugs in the first revolution to attack anti scaf protestors. They are back and include secret plainsclothes police directing criminal elements in violence.

      Examine the 6 October clashes, a smallish crowd of 2000 FJP sympathizers march to the scaf controlled government tv station hq, and then thousands of youth run from tahrir to confront them with rocks, Molotov cocktails, aimed fireworks , and yes guns. After retreating the pro morsi people scattering, it appears that the entire ‘spontaneous’ crowd of tahrir youth withdraw back to tahrir, some of them receiving rides in armored personell carriers from scaf. At about the same time, neighborhood residents are confronted with bearded armed men posing as MB who beat and kill residents (none of these beareded armed men appear in the 6 oct film footage).

      Then the new Coup Scaf leaders choose Mubarak era leaders from the judiciary, military, and foreign banking elite to run the country. As a nod to Israel they close the rafah border as militants cross into Sinai and kill an Egyptian soldier.

      The NY Times adds to the evidence by claiming the US government had final approval of the coup working with scaf and the ‘liberal’ ElBaradei in the process.

      The NYT is giving space to arguing against the Algerian solution , which seems to be in process as the FJP and MB offices were burned and their leaders of 100s of members are under arrest on trumped upp military charges.:

      “This, too, bears the echoes of a not-so-distant past. In 1992, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front was on the verge of a historic victory in free elections. But the Algerian Army intervened, annulling the results and rounding up thousands of Islamists, many of whom ended up in desert prison camps. Days before the crackdown began, one of the Salvation Front’s leaders, Abdelkader Hachani, warned a crowd of supporters what might be in store. “Victory is more dangerous than defeat,” he told them.

      In hundreds of interviews that I’ve conducted with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and activists in Egypt and Jordan over the past decade, many have brought up Algeria and the so-called American veto — the notion that the United States and other Western powers would simply not allow Islamists to assume power through democratic elections.

      The subversion of democracy in 1992 in Algeria wasn’t widely reported in the West, nor was it seen as particularly important. This time, in Egypt, it happened while the whole world was watching.

      Along with 1954 and 1992, 2013 will stand as a historic moment in Islamist lore, shaping future generations of Islamist activists and deepening their already powerful narrative of persecution, repression and regret. America is blamed for enough as it is. There is no need to add another grievance to the list”

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/opinion/demoting-democracy-in-egypt.html?_r=0

  7. ToivoS
    ToivoS
    July 7, 2013, 9:40 pm

    Marc I think you misinterpreted what the Guardian said qabout Baradei. They did not suggest that the US pressured the Egyptian military to drop Baradei. That was the Salfi Al Noor party that put on the pressure. We should also know that there is no way that Al Noor would oppose Baradei (nor Morsi for that matter) without backing from Saudi Arabia. We safely assume that it is Saudi Arabia that is responsible for this action.

    You might have missed what the Guardian said, but we can definitely speculate about what the US actually thinks. It seems obvious to me that if the US opposed Baradei they would let Saudi Arabia know and encourage them to use their agents in Egypt to support that position.

    I am not sure what the Whitehouse thinks about Baradei. To be sure when he worked for the UN he defied US dictates and caused embarrassment for the Bush administration during the Iraq war. Perhaps our state department views him as a menace and Obama is carrying on that policy. But we also know that Saudi Arabia does pursue its own interests in conflict with the US now and then. I don’t think it was pure coincidence that 14 or the 19 suicide warriors on 911 were Saudi, so it is clear that they do not necessarily follow US dictates.

    In any case the fate of Baradei is hard to predict.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      July 8, 2013, 5:43 am

      ” I don’t think it was pure coincidence that 14 or the 19 suicide warriors on 911 were Saudi, so it is clear that they do not necessarily follow US dictates.”

      The US government knows this, knows that Saudis provide nearly half of the terrorists who kill Americans, and the education providing foot soldiers for Al Quaida and Taliban are Saudi funded. This linked article goes into great factual detail about this, and also as to the US government and main media are complicit in not making this information available to the American public:

      http://www.asecondlookatthesaudis.com

      The article does not suggest why the US government does this, except to mention the price of oil as relevant. (US government handles Iran exactly the opposite, looking under every rock for an Iranian connection it can blow out of proportion.)

  8. piotr
    piotr
    July 8, 2013, 8:54 am

    ” For example, Egyptian liberals want to put military officers on trial for massacring civilians.”

    This is Monday morning and there was a massacre of the Brothers, more than 40 dead and 300 wounded. Right now, the choice of Prime Minister becomes less important.

    • lysias
      lysias
      July 8, 2013, 2:09 pm

      After that massacre, it becomes conceivable that the Egyptian coup could be quickly reversed the way the attempted coup against Chavez was.

      In the meantime, the way the U.S. government refuses to call the Egyptian coup a “coup” is as incongruous as the U.S. government’s refusal to admit that Israel has nuclear weapons.

  9. Walker
    Walker
    July 8, 2013, 9:30 am

    Thank you for bringing this up, Marc. I noticed that Times story as well. The blowback potential is enormous.

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