Egypt’s beleaguered military rulers, Mr. Mubarak’s former allies, are reluctant to reform and resentful of pressure to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government. As a result, they have repeatedly portrayed pro-democracy activists as spies and saboteurs, and blamed the country’s economic crisis and sectarian strife on “foreign schemes that threaten the stability of the homeland.”

By appealing to pervasive anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments, the military’s xenophobic paranoia has meshed with a resurgent Islamist movement’s traditional disdain for foreign influences. The result has strained ties with Washington to breaking point.

“America’s supposed friends in the Egyptian military — recipients of US$1.3-billion in annual aid — have whipped up anti-American sentiment at a feverish pace,” Mr. Hamid said. “It may have started as a political ploy, a way to build support on the street and highlight the army’s nationalist credentials. But now, it appears, they’ve lost control.”…

“Many suspect a power struggle between the Supreme Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood; a struggle in which the officers try to show the ‘brothers’ their strength by standing firm against the great and powerful America,” said Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East & Islam at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.