In 1998, I travelled to Egypt and Israel on a diplomatic trip. Two impressions stayed with me to this day.
First, Israel is indeed a very small country surrounded on all sides by enemies or very tenuous friends. At one point during the trip, we stood in a former gun turret in the Golan Heights where we could see Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan in the distance. We didn’t go anywhere near the Gaza Strip because even then, although things were relatively peaceful, it was still too dangerous.
In Egypt, we soon learned the power of the military. One afternoon, our guide took me and another woman aside and told us clearly that Egypt is a “military dictatorship.” We also became quite aware of the tensions in that country between secularists, Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters, and the Coptic Christians.
Today, as the military is evidently carrying out a coup to remove Mohamed Morsi from power, I’m not shocked by this turn of events. When Egyptians forced Hosni Mubarak from power and held elections to form a new government, it seemed logical that the most organized and most determined force in that country would win. The Muslim Brotherhood fit the bill. Since their formation eighty years ago, they had been suppressed but remained organized. The Egyptian elections offered them an opportunity to come out of the shadows and gain power.
It’s also not completely surprising that Morsi immediately began operating in a quasi-authoritarian manner. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to create an Islamist state. Morsi was merely carrying out the beginning of this agenda.
Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the secularists or the Coptic Christians. Since the anniversary of Morsi’s election, they’ve been on the streets in force calling for Morsi’s removal. In a country controlled for years by the military, everyone there knows that whoever the military ultimately supports will hold power. When members of the Egyptian military flew Egyptian flags in formation over the millions gathered in Tahrir Square this week, it was rightly taken as a sign that the military supports the protestors.
As the Washington Post observed this morning, while all this transpired, the world has witnessed the “plummeting prestige and influence of the United States.”
I’m writing this as Egyptian State Run media (i.e., the military) is announcing that Morsi is no longer president. Over the past few weeks, as this crisis has unfolded, President Obama and our ambassador in Egypt have indicated support for Morsi as the democratically elected president of Egypt.
It will be interesting to see how Obama deals with this latest crisis. Truly, this is a crisis. The stability of the Middle East is at stake.
For Israel, it is an enormous problem in that Syria already poses a huge potential problem on one border. Having an unstable Egypt on a different border would create even greater instability for our ally.
While Egypt has no oil production, much of the world’s oil still flows through the Suez Canal. Thus, for the rest of the world, unrest in Egypt is extremely problematic.
Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Hopefully, President Obama is prepared to deal with unrest in Egypt and protect our Embassy in Cairo and consulates throughout Egypt on this important American anniversary, particularly in light of the fact that he apparently failed to do so in Libya on September 11th.
What happens next is probably the greatest foreign policy test of the Obama administration.
America’s greatness comes from leading, not sitting by passively as we have since Obama assumed office.
In this crisis, it’s time for America to lead.