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Misunderstood Egypt

In response to:

Egypt: The Misunderstood Agony from the September 26, 2013 issue

To the Editors:

Yasmine El Rashidi’s riveting description of the events in Egypt [“Egypt: The Misunderstood Agony,” NYR, September 26] either ignores or denies the evidence that it was a military coup against the elected Morsi government. Perhaps the reason for this evasion is that under American law, taxpayer funds cannot be disbursed to a faction that comes to power through an overthrow of elected government. That is why President Obama hesitated to release the $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt’s new military junta, and is leaning against sending military hardware to the generals.

According to Washington officials I have interviewed, the $1.3 billion cannot be disbursed in the case of a coup without a waiver from Congress. If the president tries limiting aid only for counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, he still faces an argument with Congress. Key senators including Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and John McCain (R-Arizona) have described the overthrow of the Morsi government as a coup.

Perhaps El Rashidi refuses to brand what happened to Morsi as a coup because it could affect the flow of American funding. But facts should matter. It doesn’t matter if Morsi was unpopular, or how many Egyptian protesters demanded that he step down. That it was a coup is suggested graphically in the author’s own statement that “today, the sight of police and army vehicles brings a sigh of relief, as do reports of arrests of top Brotherhood leaders.” We are being dragged into another sectarian civil war in violation of US law.

Tom Hayden
Culver City, California

Yasmine El Rashidi replies:

Tom Hayden makes numerous assumptions in his response to my piece. It might be worth pointing out that my intention is not to write to enlighten those who govern in the US or to clarify the US government’s responsibility under its laws with respect to my country, but rather to reflect and document a reality on the ground in Egypt—in this instance, the back-story to the events of June 30, July 3, and August 14; the record of Morsi’s government during a year in office; and why his ouster was so widely supported (despite the unfortunate violence and killing of many civilians that ensued in the police’s confrontation with Islamist protesters).

The American view seems insistent that if a leader is chosen through a “free and fair” election, it means we have a system of democracy in place. If we had a fair election, as is widely assumed, then Mr. Hayden would be correct in his assertion that Morsi’s lack of popularity does not justify his removal from office. But what is more important, which Mr. Hayden fails to address, is that Morsi undermined every democratic principle, and with his constitutional declaration of November 2012—in which he asserted that the president’s actions are not subject to any judicial oversight—gave himself power more absolute than even Mubarak before him. He and his Islamist government did everything in their power to undermine the foundations of democracy and the rule of law—starting with the judiciary, which he and his supporters obstructed and subverted.

The debate over whether this was a “coup” or not is one that has troubled Americans, but few Egyptians seem to care much how events are defined or labeled by the West; they care about how the reality—past or present—affects their everyday lives. A large proportion of Egyptians view the events of July as a popular uprising against the Morsi regime. If one is to look at facts, and recent examples from our own history, the only real difference between what happened on February 11, 2011, when Mubarak was deposed following demonstrations, and what happened on July 3, 2013, when Morsi was removed, is that in the case of the latter, even more people turned out onto the streets and specifically asked for the army to intervene.

While it could be argued that the military acted too swiftly this past July, following just six days of protest compared to eighteen days in 2011, it also seemed that if it had not done so, the state could have collapsed, not only economically but into violence as well. The real coup happened in February 2011, as I wrote. Little has changed since then in the way of the police or military state, whose actions I outline extensively in the piece.

If the US were to cut aid, it seems that this should have happened in 2011, or perhaps in late 2012, when the Islamists pulled off a coup of their own, with Morsi arrogating to himself extralegal powers and the Islamists taking over the country’s legislative body. The US administration chose not to take action in either of those instances since it wasn’t in its best interest. Indeed, policy toward Egypt has been rather piecemeal, with little consistency and little commitment to the ideals of democracy and human rights the US has so long preached.

It is hard to take seriously the words of certain senators, such as those Mr. Hayden names. In 2011, Senator John McCain described the Muslim Brotherhood as a “radical group” that was “anti-democratic” and said: “They have been involved with other terrorist organizations and I believe that they should be specifically excluded from any transition government.” If we consider the Muslim Brotherhood’s record of abuse of power and of human rights during and after a year in office, and the senator’s apparent wholehearted support of them in 2013, his credibility, integrity, and commitment to democratic ideals in Egypt are certainly put in question.

Perhaps it is worth noting that a large proportion of Egyptians would welcome the cutting of the US’s $1.3 billion aid package to Egypt, which seems to be largely to the benefit of the United States and Israel.

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