“The White House on Friday threw its weight behind Egypt’s resurgent protest movement, urging for the first time the handover of power by the interim military rulers in the Obama administration’s most public effort yet to steer the course of the Egyptian democracy…
“Until recently the United States had publicly endorsed [the Egyptian military’s] plans to guide a slow transition to civilian democracy in 2013 or later.
“But the military council began spelling out plans to carve out permanent political powers and protection from civilian oversight under the next constitution. Those efforts exploded after the government used force to clear a small protest camp from Tahrir Square last Saturday, amid mounting unrest across the country.”
“Since the start of the Arab Spring, the United States has spoken out for a set of core principles that have guided our response to events, including opposition to the use of violence and repression, defense of universal rights including the freedom of peaceful assembly, and support for political and economic reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.
“In Egypt over the past several days, we have seen protesters demand the realization of these principles. We have condemned the excessive use of force against them and called for restraint on all sides. We deeply regret the loss of life, and urge the Egyptian authorities to implement an independent investigation into the circumstances of those deaths. But the situation Egypt faces requires a more fundamental solution, devised by Egyptians, which is consistent with universal principles.
“The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.”
“[I]f the U.S. once again finds itself anxiously wringing its hands in the face of a rapidly-changing political situation in Egypt, the abiding lesson of 2011 has been just how limited U.S. leverage and influence has become across Middle East. The proposals, entreaties and threats by the Obama Administration are now routinely ignored by friend and foe alike — Saudi Arabia orchestrated a brutal crackdown on Bahrain’s democracy movement when the U.S. was urging dialogue; Iraq said thanks but no thanks to U.S. troops staying on beyond December; Israel kept on building settlements, while the Palestinians ignored Obama’s frantic efforts to stop them taking their case to the U.N.; Iran ignored U.S.-led pressure over its nuclear program; Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has ignored Washington’s demand that he step down; Turkey has been unmoved by Obama’s efforts to cajole it into reconciliation with Israel; and so on.
“Washington may not like the military’s handling of the transition, but it may not like the outcome of a democratic election in which the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge the most powerful force in government either. On the streets, despite its efforts to engage and ingratiate itself with opposition groups, it is still widely viewed with suspicion, regarded as an enabler of the junta. Decades of support for Egypt’s dictators has left little enthusiasm across its political spectrum for U.S. involvement in shaping the country’s future.
“It’s just as well, perhaps, that the Administration has begun talking of a “Pacific century,” moving troops to Australia even as it withdraws from Iraq. Because for better or worse, 2011 will be remembered as the year the Middle East, as a region, declared its independence from U.S. influence.”
“Asked about their perceptions of the intention of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled over Egypt since president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last February, 21% of the 750 Egyptian respondents said it was to ‘advance the gains of the revolution’, while more than twice that number (43%) said it was to ‘slow or reverse’ the revolution’s gains. Fourteen percent said the SCAF was ‘indifferent’.
“Asked to pick who in a list of nine foreign leaders they would like the next Egyptian president to look like, a whopping 38% cited Erdogan; Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, 11%; former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, 9%; and Saudi King Abdullah, 8%. Obama was cited by only 5% of the respondents…
“And when Egyptians were asked what foreign country they wanted their political system to most closely resemble, 44% chose Turkey, followed by France at 10%, and Saudi Arabia, China and Germany at 8% each.
“‘Turkey is really the model in Egypt,’ said Telhami.”
“The junta’s position is a combination of greed and its self-image as guardian of Egypt’s national interest. Officers enrich themselves by large-scale business enterprises.
“At the same time, they are no doubt aware of the likelihood that an Islamist regime would eventually purge the army and arrest officers—as is happening in Turkey, the explicit model for the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy—and replace them with its ideological followers. They also might take into account that the Brotherhood is likely to get Egypt into a losing war with Israel and take steps that would cost the military hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.
“Now this clash in itself has added still another dimension. It is said that if you wound an elephant you have to kill it as otherwise the enraged leviathan will trample you. The Brotherhood now sees the military as an enemy and if it comes to power would have all the more incentive to crush that rival.
“There are no good options.”
“The sidelining of smaller Islamic and secular parties would damage citizens’ faith in the democratic process, and the exclusion of the minority Coptic Christians from significant representation in Parliament could be catastrophic.
“Copts are unlikely to vote for Islamic parties and, after October’s violent street battles between Christian demonstrators and the military, they have lost faith in old liberal movements like the Wafd Party. They are instead coalescing around niche parties like the Justice Party and the Free Egyptians. But these groups are polling at less than 5 percent — not enough to win more than a handful of seats. And if Copts are shut out of Parliament, they are also likely to be absent from the committee which will draw up the new Egyptian constitution…
“The threat of electoral defeat has even made some liberals sympathetic to the military’s attempt to dominate the constitution-writing process. They are so fearful of Muslim Brotherhood dominance that they would rather have secular strongmen in control than democratically elected Islamists.
“It may be true that the military wants an impotent new Parliament, but when liberals resort to supporting the tools of dictators, the future is bleak.”
“According to Agence France-Presse, Sinz and her cameraman, Salah Agrabi, began being attacked on a street leading from Tahrir Square to the interior ministry.
“‘We were filming in Mohammed Mahmud Street when we were mobbed by young people who were about 14 or 15,’ Sinz told AFP. Then they were dragged by a group of men towards Tahrir Square where they became separated.
“‘We were then assaulted by a crowd of men. I was beaten by a group of youngsters and adults who tore my clothes.’ Then they molested her in a way that ‘would be considered rape,’ she said. ‘Some people tried to help me but failed. I was lynched. It lasted three quarters of an hour before I was taken out. I thought I was going to die.’ Her cameraman was also beaten, she said.”