In one of the most ironic foreign policy twists of all time, Egyptian journalists are reporting that a majority of Egyptians now link the US with the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
No, it’s not because President Obama is the socialist Muslim Teapublicans think him to be. The reality is much less interesting. It stems from our undying belief in democracy, and the fact that Americans equate democracy with freedom. But, as we’re learning, democracy does not always lead to freedom, and it doesn’t always represent the will of the people.
Egypt is a great case in point.
When Morsi was elected president, it had less to do with his vision for the future of Egypt than the fact that his Freedom and Justice Party representing the Muslim Brotherhood was more organized and more powerful than the opposition parties. After all, political parties had not previously played a large role in Egyptian government because Egypt had never before held democratic elections. Nevertheless, the US felt it necessary to embrace Morsi after he won election.
Once Morsi gained power, he ignored the economic issues of poverty and joblessness that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, Morsi focused on consolidating power in order to ensure that Freedom and Justice Party candidates could not be defeated in future elections. He also took steps to replace the current legal system with Islamic law.
To that end, Morsi reinstated the Islamist-dominated parliament that was disbanded by the Supreme Constitutional Court. He then ordered the return of legislators elected a year earlier, a majority of whom are members of his own party or other Islamist groups. Morsi objected to a constitutional provision that would limit his presidential power and announced that any constitutional amendments restricting the president’s powers would be annulled. And late last year, he issued a declaration purporting to protect the work of the assembly convened to draft a new constitution from judicial interference. But, in effect, that declaration immunized his actions from any legal challenge.
By this time, most Egyptians had had enough. But the Obama administration, like so many of the administrations before it, felt it had little choice but to continue to support a democratically-elected president. So we continued to provide billions of military aid to Egypt.
Now the US is left in a very awkward position.
US law dictates that we cut off military aid to any nation that removes a democratically-elected leader through a military coup. Yet one can easily argue that the Egyptian military was directed by the will of the people. And if we do cut off military aid, we risk alienating the military leaders, the most powerful political force in Egypt. Furthermore, it would lend more credence to the notion that we support the Muslim Brotherhood over the will of the people.
We likely wouldn’t be in this dilemma if our foreign policy put more emphasis on humanitarian aid versus military aid. For decades, we have continued Cold War policies of providing weapons to nations (including those run by brutal dictators) that support our corporate…er…national interests. At the same time, we have tended to ignore the health and welfare of ordinary people.
The resulting void is too often filled by terrorists and militant organizations.
Such organizations have endeared themselves to ordinary citizens by building schools, mosques, water treatment plants, medical facilities and other things that directly benefit a majority of the people. That helps them more easily recruit members and enables them to draw a stark contrast with the US. And when these nations inevitably erupt in political turmoil, our own weapons are often turned against us.
Why do we continue such bone-headed foreign policies? In a word, money. Selling weapons to governments that support our multinational corporations is very profitable for our military-industrial complex. Building infrastructure and creating jobs…not so much. Moreover, economic disparity and poverty provide a ready source of cheap labor for multinational corporations in search of places to send our manufacturing jobs.