Over the weekend, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – he of the Muslim Brotherhood – ousted the country’s two top military chiefs. The pretext for this power play was the successful sneak attack by Islamist terrorists on Egyptian military personnel in the Sinai peninsula. The Islamists who carried out the attack didn’t succeed in “invading” Israel, but they helped tilt the Egyptian playing field in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi’s move represents a double setback for the interests of the United States. First, the top ousted leader, Field Marshal Tantawi, is a long-time friend of the U.S. He is likely to be the last powerful friend we have in Egypt for a long time.
Second, the move consolidates the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over Egypt. The Brotherhood, of course, is a radical Islamist outfit that has long been the enemy of the U.S. Its ascendancy also constitutes a blow to pro-liberalization forces within Egypt. Although these forces have no great affection for the military, until now they have regarded it as a counterbalance to the Muslim Brotherhood. As a founder of the secular Justice Party said following Morsi’s power play, “I’m very apprehensive; they [the Brotherhood] have control over most of the levers of power.”
The U.S. had two reactions to the ouster of Tantawi, the first was honest, the second was spin. Both are dispiriting.
The honest reaction consisted of surprise and alarm. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Egypt just two weeks ago. He reported that “President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends.” Good call, Leon.
But at least the White House initially had enough sense to be alarmed by Tantawi’s ouster. According to the Washington Post, Morsi’s bold move “seemed to signal that Washington’s worst fears about the direction of the Egyptian revolution were coming true.”
By Monday, however, the Obama administration was in full “cautiously optimistic” mode. The administration, including the Defense Department, now claims that it anticipated the move, but just didn’t know the precise timing. The precise decade would be closer to the truth.
The White House also purports to take comfort from the fact that it knows the new head of the armed forces, General Sissi. It assures us that Sissi has “espoused cooperation with the United States and the need for peace with neighbors.”
Nothing to worry about, then. Except that (1) Sissi owes his position to the Brotherhood and (2) anyone can espouse anything.
Action means more than words. And Sissi’s best known action consists of his involvement in “virginity testing” of females demonstrators during the revolution.
For a final, realistic word on Morsi’s consolidation of power, we must turn not to our government, but to journalist Mohamed Abdul Quddus, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood:
Morsi wanted full authority. He doesn’t know diplomacy well and is known to not accept middle-ground solutions.
In other words, just another Islamist moderate.