Post-embassy attack, Egyptian President Morsi's silence deafening (+video)
President Mohamed Morsi, who still faces enormous skepticism as Egypt's first Islamist president, squandered an opportunity to reassure the international community that Egypt is stable.
(Page 3 of 3)
At the same time, Morsi is facing competition from ultraconservative Islamists who have become influential in the post-revolution political world, and have challenged the Brotherhood’s claim to be the representative of political Islam. The protest at the embassy was called by called by members of the salafi sect, who practice a Saudi Arabian version of their faith. They were joined by non-Islamists, including some Christians and a group of hard-core soccer fans, who claimed responsibility for bringing down the American flag.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Morsi also faces pressure to break from the mold of the past, when former President Hosni Mubarak was seen as a puppet of the US. The new president has gone to great lengths to at least appear to chart a more independent course.
“Egypt is no longer a politically oppressed country, it's a politically free country. In a democracy, the will of the people has to be translated into political actions. This may help us understand some of what has happened here, and perhaps the delay of some of these statements,” says Gehad el Haddad, an advisor to the Freedom and Justice Party.
Morsi’s statement, says Mr. Haddad, shows that his first concern is his people, rather than the US. But he acknowledged that Morsi's reaction likely damaged relations with the US.
“In a standard situation when there's enough trust established between two nations, such incidents can be quickly resolved. But because of the volatility of the situation in Egypt, and the fact that we've been working on rebuilding the relationship with the US for the past two years on a basis of trust, it certainly is damaging to the US-Egypt relationship.”
He adds, "We find the violent protest to be wrong, and Friday's demonstrations should show Egyptian youth the right way to peacefully voice their anger."
Omar Ashour, an expert on Islamist groups at the University of Exeter, says the protest put Morsi in a difficult spot with his more conservative supporters, but he could condemn the embassy breach without appearing to brush aside concern about the film by admonishing protesters for holding the US government accountable for a film it did not produce.
In fact, that was the tack taken by Morsi’s prime minister, Hisham Kandil, who made the strongest statement here against the embassy breach yesterday. He said the incident was “regrettable” and “rejected by all Egyptians and cannot be justified, especially if we consider that the people who produced this low film have no relation to the government.”
He also called on the US to take action against the filmmakers, “within the framework of international charters that criminalize acts that stir strife on the basis of race, color or religion."
But such statements, says Hanna, are too little, too late. “I think there's going to be a lot of damage, a lot of skepticism,” he said. “If you're an international business executive, what if that's your factory or plant under attack? You can be sure probably that no one's going to come up to bat for you if there's some sort of challenge to Morsi from the right. Populist Islamist sentiment is something he will never take on.”