dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Way down in Egypt Land!

As events have swirled in Egypt, it is not hard to follow the blood and gore. It is less clear what's really going on. When Lindsay Graham and John McCain appear as the chief American interlocutors, you can be sure our policy is adrift. Reading Pat Lang this morning, I found the following comments from a journalism professor at the American University of Cairo focused on media coverage filling in some of the missing pieces. Read it here; it's short!

And here is the NYTimes account of media coverage: not as short.

UPDATE: Here is the inevitable, "The U.S. has-had-it scenario," with Russia and Saudia Arabia joining forces to calm things down in Egypt with China as backstop. Provocative and Sobering. Asia Times.

Paul Pillar at the National Interest argues that the U.S. could let the military aid to Egypt go without serious consequences for the U.S. or Egypt, but perhaps with some consequences for Israel, which has undertaken a diplomatic initiative to keep the aid flowing to Egypt. In brief, the Egyptians have no desire for a war with Israel and the Israeli military can thwart the Sinai terrorists. The problem for Israel: in the 1979 treaty with Egypt, it promised to make peace with the Palestinians within five years. A long five years!

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Here's a politically incorrect statement:  Schliefer is right:  since Viet Nam for a huge portion of the American populace the military is incapable or unwilling to do anything right.

It seems to me that Obama's policy has been vacillating because the players (except the military) have been vacillating, and possibly they need to vacillate at this point.  The players include the military, the native Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Queda extremists and their local buddies, and the rest of tthe people  who just want to get down to making a living.  Two of the latter three will have to join forces, but none of them want to share power.  The situation is likely to continue until a strong leader emerges who can unify at least two of the factions. 

Here is a statement by Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac, president of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Egypt:

http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/statement-of-the-catholic-church-in-egypt

And Spiegel-online today has three different takes on what is happening.

Patriarch: sounds like he (and the Assembly?) support the military.

[Lindsay Graham getting the vapors] - again! - is really getting old.  This particular friendship with John McCain is becoming more and more absurd, and more uncomfortable for us to watch. 

I think that the Obama Administration has it just about right in dealing with the overthrow of Morisi in Egypt - a messy and as unsatisfying as that may be.  Were not dealing here with dissention at the local chamber of commerce over the menu at luncheon.  

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.  It's best to wait for the dust to settle before the US puts its collective foot in it.

Yes, I feel compassion for the Egyptian people.  They have suffered for a very long time.  But if anyting our own American experience has taught us is that freedom is not free.  There will be more bloody days ahead for Egyptians.  It is very difficult prospect to take an entire society from despotism and dictatorship to democracy in less than a generation.  This isn't going to play itself out like a Hollywood script. 

The standard for the US should always be what is best for the vast majority of the Egyptian people.  How can we help them to realize their own "Bill of Rights"?

From the Egyptian patriarchs and bishops:

Lastly, we address the international conscious and all national leaders that they understand and believe that what is happening in Egypt now is not a political struggle between different factions, but a war against terrorism.

That is a pretty consise statement of what this all means.  Most news reports I've absorbed on these events have focusd on the violence, especially the number of victims / the body count.  They don't particularly position this as a war against terrorism.

This piece in Politico, by a former Obama Administration State Department official, criticizes the Obama administration for vacillating on Egypt (and a number of other hot spots in the Middle East).  But if the Egyptian bishops (who, it may be worth noting, are the oppressed minority in this picture; theirs is the view of the marginalized) are formulating this correctly, it doesn't seem that complicated: the Obama Administration should support the Egyptian military, and cutting off foreign aid would seem to contradict that support.  Am I missing something?

 

 

Maybe you're missing that the VP resigned in protest of the violent crackdown last week, a level of violence which he deemed unnecessary. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/14/us-egypt-protests-elbaradei-idUSBRE97D0X720130814

Before we get all weepy-eyed over the lovely intentions of the Egyptian Army, that army was last seen as an X factor as anti-Mubarak demonstrators waited to see whose side it would come down on. Before that, the army was the bulwark of the Egyptian dictatorships, starting with a general (Muhammed Naguib), followed by Colonel Gamal Nasser. and so on. The dictatorship spent a lot of time outlawing and torturing members of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the Army (and police) perforce doing the heavy whipping and whacking. If the army has now become the paladin of Egyptian democracy, that's nice but it will be news to a lot of Egyptians.

About the only place in that part of the world where one can feel confident saying a good word about the army is Turkey. Turkey is, like, 99 percent Muslim, and a democracy. (The latter fact was unknown to the Bush administration which thought it was creating the first Muslim democracy in Iraq. Oh, well.) The Turkish army was the guarantor of democracy. Lately, there were demonstrations against the semi-religious government in Turkey, and the Army was on the sidellines. But then the international press, with the attention span of the common housefly, flew off to Egypt, and who knows what is going on in Turkey now?

The Egyptian Christians, even at the episcopal level, can hardly be thought to be objective or even-handed between the Brotherhood and the army that is currently sitting on it. If the Brotherhood were to achieve its ultimate stated goals, things would go very badly for Christians. That alone is no reason, though, to sprinkle the army with holy water.

What if this is both a struggle between factions, more than two probably, and a struggle against terrorism?

Factions: The army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the liberals, the seculars, the non-military elite and the non-Muslim monorities (Copts, Catholics, Jews). The military is more or less the arbiter because it is organized, resourced, and it has most of the heavy weaponary. It is hardly surprising that the statement from the Patriarch, representing the Christian community, is in favor of the military; they are its only protection.

Terrorism: Militants and salafis in the Sinai, who attacked the army under Morsi; some factions of the MB (my impression is that they are not of one mind on how to proceed); Jihadis wandering in from Libya next door: perhaps a small contingent of Al Qadea in North Africa.

My guess is that the U.S. will do what Israel asks. At the moment, it is to keep aid to the Egyptian military coming, though it appears we have no leverage over them or any other faction. That's why McCain and Graham are allowed to run loose. IMO, the U.S. has no independent policy right now.

 

In the patriarch's letter, "...the international conscious" should be "conscience," of course.

In his 2006 Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” Lawrence Wright pointed out that the 1952 military coup that ousted King Farouk had Muslim Brotherhood support, but that the Brothers soon fell out with the military and the Nasser-led suppression of the Brotherhood began.  According to Wright, “In a story that would be repeated again and again in the Middle East, the contest quickly narrowed to a choice between a military society and a religious one.  Nasser had the army and the Brothers had the mosques.”

 

As it was 60 years ago, so it is today.

 

According to an NPR report that I heard this morning, the Morsi government and the Brotherhood encouraged conspiracy theories about Egyptian Christians, helped whip up hate against them and must bear a lot of responsibility for the persecution that they are now suffering.

 

Thank you for your expression of concern about the Jews in Egypt, Margaret, but there are hardly any left, probably fewer than 100.  Thanks to the founding of Israel, the 75,000-strong community in 1948 managed to escape in the following years.  Otherwise, they, too, would be the victims of the current persecution, and perhaps bearing the brunt of it, as they did for so many centuries in Arab countries. 

 

My best guess is that the United States will do what it thinks is in its best interest.  It will certainly take into account the treaty between Egypt and Israel, because it is one of the cornerstones of U.S. policy in the region, but so are its relationships with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are backing the Egyptian army.  And so are its fly-over rights in Egypt, which are important to a lot of its operations, and its preferential rights to passage through the Suez Canal.  I have read or heard that the U.S. is the only country whose warships Egypt allows to pass through the Canal, but I haven't confirmed it.

There is a very good memoir by Andre Aciamn, Out of Egypt, about his family departure during WWII from Turkey to safer territory in Egypt.

Turkey may technically be a democracy, but that status is fraying badly:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/topic/turkey/

I have visited that country about 7 or 8 times over the past 20 years and have local friends there.  They all admit (albeit very cautiously) that the political environment there has worsened since Erdoğan has become Prime Minister.  Granted, they are not Islamists by any stretch of the imagination.  They are secular to the hilt and want to keep it that way.

Bassem Sabry reports at Al Monitor that

"On one hand, the Brotherhood is faced with the combined power of an antagonistic administration, the media, the judiciary and a substantial number of people who seem to be confronting the Brotherhood in the streets out of their own volition. The Brotherhood is even facing the leaderships of the country’s top two religious institutions, the Coptic church and Al-Azhar. Most remarkably, a senior Al-Azhar leader and scholar, Dr. Ahmed Kreima, had reportedly declared that Al-Azhar’s council of Sharia scholars has deemed the Brotherhood apostates."

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/egypt-72-hours.html

Could it be that calmer heads are starting to prevail?

 

HT Andrew Sullivan

Oh come on. Any journalist old enough to feel a liberal's Vietnam angst probably cut his or her journalistic teeth in places like Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicauragua, Chile, or one of countless other countries where they could witness the benevolent, liberal democratizing effect of military rule for themselves. The fact is, Egypt has spent billions of dollars -- our dollars, mostly -- making sure the military has all the firepower, so of course it's a dangerous thing that the generals get to decide what's right in the civil sphere -- you don't have to use Vietnam to explain journalists' scepticism.

And the first half of this guy's piece, where he says what Americans don't know about Egypt, is just wrong -- I've read everything he says in articles in the MSM, usually following a phrase like "supporters of the military claim that". What bothers him is that his point of view isn't presented as "truth" and everything else as "lies and falsehoods."

Don't get me wrong -- if I were in Egypt I'd probably agree with this guy. But the truth is that Egypt has got itself into a position where a bad option -- military rule -- may be the best option, and a thousand people are dead in the streets. That's hard to present as good news.

But the truth is that Egypt has got itself into a position where a bad option -- military rule -- may be the best option, and a thousand people are dead in the streets. That's hard to present as good news. 

That's also my impression. As to the patriarch, given the burning of Christian churches and the intimidation of Christians there (Here's a link with a list. I don't know what that website is worth, but the list is pretty horrifying: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/08/15/reported-list-of-churches-and-christian-institutions-attacked-in-egypt-since-wednesday-will-astonish-you/ ,) his support of the military may simply derive from the principle "the ennemies of my ennemies are my friends," and who can blame him for that?

 

It takes two to make peace, Margaret.

 

For the first fifteen years after the Camp David Treaty, it was the official and actual position of the Palestinians that they would never make peace with Israel, which they contended had no right to exist.  It is the official and actual position of half of the Palestinians today – those in Gaza.

 

To the best of my knowledge, in the 65-year history of Israel, the Palestinians have never – not a single time in 65 years – made an offer of peace to the Israelis.

 

When Israel has made substantial, good faith offers, as it did at Camp David in 2000 and as Ehud Olmert did in 2008, they have been rebuffed in bad faith by the Palestinians.  The Palestinians responded to peace offers in 2000 by saying no to everything Israel offered, by refusing to make an offer themselves, and by initiating a terror bombing campaign in Israel that killed over 1,100 Israelis, including 150 children, before it was finally put down by the Israeli army in 2004.  And they didn’t respond to Olmert’s peace offer in 2008.

 

When Israel unilaterally ended settlements and occupation in Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians responded by electing Hamas in 2006 to be their governing party.  Hamas is against peace under any circumstances and is sworn to the ultimate destruction of Israel.  It is also the most virulently and openly anti-Semitic party to govern anywhere since the Nazis ruled Germany.

 

A subsequent war between Hamas and Fatah left Hamas only in charge of Gaza, which it rules as a dictatorship, and Fatah in control of the West Bank, which it governs (through the Palestinian Authority) as a dictatorship.

 

And, of course, all of this is against the historical rejection of the two-state solution by the Palestinians and the three all-out wars and countless terror campaigns that they and their regional allies have waged to destroy Israel.

 

The Spengler article in the Asia Times Online echoes his long-standing claim that the Arab Spring is doomed to failure.  In this, he appears, unfortunately, to be right.  Look at Syria! Look at Libya! Look at Egypt! Even in Tunisia, where it all began, the two leading opposition figures to the current Islamic government have recently been assassinated.  But I don’t know whether Spengler has a basis for his other provocative geopolitical claims in his article.

 

Both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post are reporting this morning that Turkey’s Erdogan, who supports the Brotherhood, is claiming that Israel is the mastermind behind Morsi’s overthrow.  As though the Egyptian Army and the Egyptian people are controlled by Israel.  Of course, in Egypt there is widespread belief among Morsi’s opponents that Israel is the mastermind behind the effort to prop up Morsi!

 

But we tend to forget that in so much of that part of the world hatred for Israel and Jews is whipped up by the governments, just as it was being whipped up against Christians in Egypt by the Morsi government.

 

On state television in Egypt (during Mubarak’s reign) and in Turkey mini-series appear about the Jews’ master plot to control the world.  And this anti-Semitic tripe seems to be gobbled up by the populace.

 

Even in the United States, there are those who claim that the Jews control United States foreign policy in the Mideast, but fortunately these views are held only by a fringe element.

 

In my comment of today at 11:50 a.m., the last sentence should read, "And, of course, all of this is against the background of the historical rejection of the two-state solution by the Palestinians and the three all-out wars and countless terror campaigns that they and their regional allies have waged to destroy Israel.

Jeff: Your Hasbra-like efficiency in responding to all things Israel is noted.

As you say, it takes two to make peace.

Claire said, "Maybe you're missing that the VP resigned in protest of the violent crackdown last week, a level of violence which he deemed unnecessary."

And, oh look, now the military government has arrested him for speaking out against them:

"Former vice president accused of 'betraying national trust' because of resignation after crackdown on Morsi supporters." (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/08/201382013218872674.html)

Margaret says, “Jeff: Your Hasbra-like efficiency in responding to all things Israel is noted.”

 

What I note, Margaret, is that you didn’t defend your position.  Instead, you responded with an empty, substance-less one-liner.

 

In your update to your post, you faulted Israel for not making peace with the Palestinians within 5 years of the Camp David Treaty “as promised.”  When I posted a substantive and fact-based response (my 11:50 a.m. comment) to your naked assertion, pointing out how unfair and misleading it was, your response didn’t address any of the facts I adduced.  It didn’t deny them.  Or admit them. Or address them.  It ignored them. 

 

And it didn’t admit that your original comment was unfair.  Or deny it.  Or address it.  It ignored your original remark.

 

It being a free country, you are free to respond with one-line gibes to substantive comments disagreeing with you.  But it being a free country, I’m free to point out what you’re up to.

 

And by the way, if by “Hasbra-like,” you intend to invoke the Hebrew word, you have misspelled the English phonetic spelling.  It is “hasbara", not “hasbra.”  You left out a vowel.  If you mean some other word, Hebrew or English or Venusian, I was unable to figure out what it was.

Jeff: excuse the misspelling; you got my meaning.

Like you, I hope to see Israel flourish even beyond its current flourishing. But you organize your "facts" and opinions around that proposition that it is flourishing and will flourish without making peace with the Palestinians. That seems to be the view, as well, of the current government. If only the Palestinians would move on as the defeated people they are, Israel could have its Jewish and democratic state from the sea to the river. That is a choice Israelis and their government may want to make. I don't see why the U.S. and its citizens should acquiesce in it.

Margaret: First, I note that you have skipped to a broad philosophical comment and left unaddressed once again the topic that was actually under discussion.

 

Second, with respect to your broad discussion, I don’t accept the way you have framed the issues.  The difference between us is not that you desire peace and I’m indifferent to it.  After all, in my very first comments to you some ten months ago, I said exactly what peace deal I favored.  Here is what I said verbatim: “We both know that without certain concessions on both sides the odds of peace are low. Israel must end the occupation, and withdraw the settlements in the West Bank except for certain major population centers that hug the 1949 armistice lines (the “green line,” or the pre-1967 line) for which there must be appropriate land swaps. And Israel must also cede East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The Palestinians, for their part, must recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace as a Jewish state and normalize relations with it. They must relinquish the 'right of return.' And they must agree upon security arrangements to be negotiated by the parties, perhaps with help from the international community. Do you agree?”

 

These are pretty much the terms of broad consensus in the international community and what the U.N., the U.S., the E.U. and Russia (“the Quartet”) are aiming for.  Notice that I asked you whether you agreed.  You never responded and I can’t recall ever seeing anything by you indicating what peace terms you are in favor of.  Are you willing to say now?  Do you agree with these terms?  If not, why not?  I’ve been forthright about the terms of peace that I favor.  Will you be forthright, too?

 

The real difference between you and me is that I mainly blame the Palestinians for the current mess and you mainly blame the Israelis.  You are correct that most of my posts are pro-Israel, but for you to fault me for that is the pot calling the kettle black.  I wouldn’t have to post any comments if you were half-way fair in your posts, but as it is, my comments and those of other pro-Israel people serve as a needed counterweight to your uniformly negative posts about Israel.  Your remark in this post with which I have taken issue is just the latest and a typical example of that.

 

As for whether it is Israel or the Palestinians who have the most to prove about the willingness to make peace, I would think that given facts such as those that I set out in my comment today at 11:50 a.m., it is the Palestinians, but even here, I have been more forthright than you.  I have said this about Netanyahu: “I have my own doubts about Netanyahu, but I have equal doubts about whether Abbas and the Palestinians are ready to commit to peace and normalization in exchange for statehood.”  And I have said:  “As for the West Bank, there is admittedly reason to be suspicious of Netanyahu’s good faith, but there is equal reason to believe that Abbas will not or cannot agree to those things that the Palestinians must agree to for there to be peace, particularly relinquishing the ‘right of return.’  His tactic is to try to take steps through the U.N. to move toward the establishment of a state without making any of the concessions necessary for peace. ... Perhaps both governments, as currently constituted, are now in bad faith..”

 

But I can’t remember any comparable statement from you.  Are you willing to admit that there is reason to doubt whether the Palestinians are willing to make peace?

 

Last, the United States is probably the largest benefactor of the Palestinians in the world.  Over the past five years, it has averaged $750 million per year in contributions to the Palestinians, either direct aid or contributions to UNRWA.  Yet, I have never seen you post a comment questioning why the U.S. and its citizens should “acquiesce” in their wrongdoing and all their rejections of peace.

 

The truth is that 75% of the American people disagree with you about Israel and so do the Congress and the President.  And so do I.

Has everybody noticed how what to do about Egypt turned into Israeli-Palestinian non-relations? It's as inevitable as the extra point in football, but we usually talk as if the Muslims are the only ones hung up on it.

Tom:  As the person whose blog this is, Margaret has the perogative, I suppose, to post updates that address new issues.  As for me, I'm just responding to what she said.

Margaret: I found this in the Wikipedia article, "Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty" -- "The treaty was received with enormous controversy across the Arab World, where it was condemned and considered a stab in the back. The sense of outrage was particularly strong amongst Palestinians, with the leader of Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, stating: 'Let them sign what they like. False peace will not last.'"

I'd like to call attention to this piece by Andrew Doran in National Review.  Without embracing his analogy to Kristallnacht, I'd note that his view seems to align with that of the Egyptian Catholic patriarch that was discussed above.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/356099/coptic-kristallnacht-andrew-doran

 

 

... and Kirsten Powers paints the same picture in the Daily Beast.  Headline: "The Muslim Brotherhood's War on Coptic Christians"

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/22/the-muslim-brotherhood-s-war-on-coptic-christians.html

 

 

Thanks Jim,  Is the Coptic community bearing the brunt of MB revenge? Christian communities elsewhere in the ME--including in Syria and Iraq are under siege, sometimes it seems from all sides.

And Jeff, especially for you: What's with the "pay back" attacks on Christian insititutions in Israel; it appears these are carried out by settlers, or their supporters, but it is not always clear who or what is behind them. Presumably the government does not approve.

Margaret asks:  “And Jeff, especially for you: What's with the "pay back" attacks on Christian institutions in Israel; it appears these are carried out by settlers, or their supporters, but it is not always clear who or what is behind them. Presumably the government does not approve.”

 

To the extent they exist, Margaret, they are to be condemned and they are a black mark against Israel.  But you provide no information about the nature and extent of alleged payback attacks on Christians by Israelis, so its difficult for me to respond further.  You say that it is not clear”who or what” is behind them, so I’m not sure what is your basis for your accusation, especially since Palestinian Arabs persecute Christians. 

 

Here, for example, is a sourced article on the persecution of Catholics in Gaza. http://voices.yahoo.com/christians-gaza-fear-their-lives-as-muslims-403365.html.

 

And here is an article on Arab persecution of Christians in the West Bank. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/1498033/Islamic-mafia-accused-of-persecuting-Holy-Land-Christians.html

 

I do know that the Christian population in Israel has grown from approximately 48,000 in 1948 to 150,000 in 2000, largely because of their freedom to practice their religion.  I believe it is the only country in the Mideast where the Christian population is increasing

Share

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.