Insight and foresight from the global frontlines

The US, apparently, supports everyone in Egypt (and no one likes it)

The Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionary activists, Coptic Christians, and the Army all make the cut.

Hamada Elrasam/AP
Something for everyone! (Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and Mohamed Morsi at a June 30 protest in Damietta).

Al Jazeera carried a long article on its English language website yesterday designed to create the impression that the US bought and paid for the mass street protests that led Egypt's military to kick President Mohamed Morsi from office on July 3.

The piece, "Exclusive: US bankrolled anti-Morsi activists," is filled with breathless prose about what "documents obtained" reveal about how the "US channeled funding through a State Department programme to promote democracy in the Middle East region. This programme vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt."

The framing of the story is to suggest that the US helped plan and finance the events that led to the military coup in Egypt.

There's just one problem. All of the documents obtained refer to financing to secular groups in Egypt in 2011 and before. That puts the funding before Mr. Morsi even came to power. The piece fails to mention that the offices of NGOs funded by the US government's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) were ordered shut in Egypt in 2011, when Egypt was still run by a military junta.

Before then the US government's democracy promotion program was fairly limited, with groups conducting political party training with all comers, from various secular groups to the Muslim Brotherhood to the Salafi parties.

The Egyptian state has always been hostile to foreign, particularly US democracy funding, no matter who's in charge. The reason for this is fairly straightforward – its ultimate object is to make it harder for the powers that be to stay that way. 

The Al Jazeera story goes on to say that "NED has removed public access to its Egyptian grant recipients in 2011 and 2012 from its website. NED officials didn't respond to repeated interview requests."

Looks like they've got something to hide, huh? Well, what the piece fails to mention is that members of Egyptian civil society organizations who received US and other foreign funding were threatened with jail for accepting the cash after the NGO raids in 2011.

Egypt, from the time the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces were in power, put 43 foreign and local NGO employees on trial for the crime of accepting US, German, and other foreign money. Helping grant recipients avoid jail time seems responsible to me. At any rate, President Morsi's government allowed the trials to go forward after he came to power, and the 43 defendants were all given jail sentences at the start of June.

Did some anti-Morsi people get US money in 2011 (when nobody cared about Morsi) and before? You betcha. Have some of the people who got US money engaged in heated, violent rhetoric? Yes (and so has the Muslim Brotherhood and, well, practically every political faction in Egypt). Might some still be getting US money – it's possible. But the article also neglects to mention the Tammarod ("Rebel") group that organized the mass protests against Morsi's rule.

This is not surprising coming from Al Jazeera, which is after all controlled by Qatar, a major Muslim Brotherhood backer that has used the network's Arabic language channel to support the movement. That editorial line has sullied the station's reputation, beloved by Egypt's Tahrir Square revolutionaries during the uprising against Mubarak, among the protesters who supported Morsi's downfall. For Al Jazeera the Muslim Brotherhood is the home team, and it's been as eager to demonize the opposition as the opposition (and the press that favors its views) have been to demonize the Brotherhood.

The US, of course, has managed to alienate everyone in Egypt (or maybe alienating everyone in the Middle East is just inevitable for the US.) Posters attacking US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Paterson were common at the protests that started June 30 and culminated in Morsi's downfall. One popular one showed Ambassador Patterson and President Obama side by side saying the pair "support terrorism in Egypt."

The Brotherhood's opponents, you see, came to the conclusion that the Muslim Brotherhood was in cahoots with the US and that the US had backed Morsi's rise to power over the will of the "people."

The impression was helped along by a tone-deaf speech Patterson delivered on June 18, in which she appeared to call for the anti-Morsi protests to be called off. "Because many in the Egyptian Government are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or its Freedom and Justice Party, the US Government must work with them," she said then. "Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical."

But the conspiracies about US support for the Muslim Brotherhood have been around since their strong showing in parliamentary elections in 2012.

How conspiratorial? al-Dustour, a newspaper close to a secularist party staunchly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood carried a headline after Morsi's fall that said "Egypt has crushed the Zionist, American and Muslim Brotherhood's lobby with the ouster of Morsi."

This is all a bit of what goes around, comes around. During the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, the protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were angry that the US dragged its feet on abandoning support for Mubarak, just as state TV and Mubarak officials constantly complained of the meddling of "foreign hands" and sought to describe the protesters as disloyal Egyptians whipped up by US and other foreign cash, not by belief.

The US has been fairly consistent in its policy throughout all of this. Keep the money pipeline to Egypt's military, whether they're in charge or not, flowing. The US-supported Mubarak until his fall was inevitable, then dumped him. The US supported SCAF while it ruled Egypt, and it supported President Morsi during his year in power until, like Mubarak, his fall became inevitable. And now the US will back the new promised transitional process. It made that abundantly clear yesterday, when the US said a scheduled delivery of four F-16 fighters would go ahead as promised.

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