by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1433)
President Mohamed Mursi’s attempt to follow an independent foreign policy for Egypt does not sit well with the Americans who want only subservient rulers in the Muslim world.
A course correction seems to be underway in relations between Egypt and the US. Arguably the most important country in the Muslim East, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi is trying to chalk out an independent foreign policy moving out of the shadow of US and Zionist domination. Only time will tell whether this will succeed but recent developments point toward a determined bid by the new president to restore some semblance of dignity to the long-suffering and humiliated people of Egypt.
Dr. Mursi’s quest started with visiting China and Iran in August even before going to the US. It did not sit well in Washington that had expected the new Egyptian president to show greater subservience to the Americans who believe that as financiers of Egypt’s economy for decades, they deserve more gratitude. If this was not enough to irk the US, Dr. Mursi proposed a Syria Contact Group at the Makkah summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (August 15–16) that pointedly excluded the US and its Western allies. To the horror of the Americans, the Contact Group is not only limited to regional countries but also includes Iran that the US and allies have been trying to isolate for decades without much success, as was witnessed at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran in August.
Aware that Egypt is in need of financial help at this critical juncture because of 18 months of turmoil that scared away tourists and halted much business activity, Washington has been trying to woo the new Egyptian government. Its foreign exchange reserves have dropped to $15 billion, about half what they were before the uprising began early last year. On September 9, a high level delegation of American businessmen accompanied State Department and White House officials to meet Prime Minister Hisham Qandil in Cairo. At the meeting, American business leaders promised to invest in Egypt’s economy. This was meant to keep Egypt tied to American purse strings.
The visit had followed other developments. One was the declaration by US President Barack Obama that he would consider waiving $1 billion of Egypt’s $3 billion debt. The Egyptians of course were asking for the entire amount to be written off. Further, the US said it would support Egypt’s bid to acquire a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Discussions were underway between Egyptian and American officials about debt relief when these were abruptly suspended by the US on September 18. The massive demonstrations that erupted in Cairo in the aftermath of the blasphemous US-made anti-Islam movie seem to have irked the Americans. On September 11, demonstrators in Cairo scaled the walls of the US embassy and pulled down the US flag amid chants of “Death to America.” While no American official was harmed, the persistent nature of the demonstrations that quickly spread to Libya where US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi on the night of September 11–12, appeared to have really upset US officials. Embassy staff members were evacuated from Cairo amid fears for their safety.
A day after the protests erupted and then spread to most parts of the Muslim world, Obama told the Spanish language Telemundo TV (an affiliate of the American station NBC), “Egypt was not an ally of the US.” He said it was not an enemy either but the statement was clearly meant to send a message to Egypt that the US expected greater subservience from the Egyptians who had been receiving handouts for decades. The Americans felt President Mursi had not done enough to condemn the violent protests. His condemnation of the blasphemous video as well as the violence during an official visit to Brussels on September 13 was considered by the Americans as too little, too late.
It seems the Americans are using Egypt’s financial difficulties as a way to exert pressure and force Egypt to toe the US line. Whether Dr. Mursi will be forced to surrender to the US, only time will tell, but there are other signifcant developments. For instance, Qatar announced in August that it will invest $18 billion in Egypt over a decade. This was followed by an announcement from Saudi Arabia that it would provide a $4 billion loan. Turkey has also announced a $2 billion loan and said Turkish Airlines will increase flights to Cairo. A delegation of Kuwaiti government and business leaders were also in Cairo to consider investment opportunities.
The real test for President Mursi will be whether he can resist American pressure and blackmailing tactics. He will be able to overcome these problems if he shows true leadership and mobilizes the people to sacrifice material comforts in return for dignity and honour. These demand a price but only those that have the support of the people will be able to bear it, as has been shown by Islamic Iran for more than 33 years.
The challenges facing Egypt cannot be minimized. With a population of some 85 million and massive unemployment, people need food not platitudes. This is where true leadership stands apart from mere politicians that cater to the whims of the people. Egypt has immense potential. It has a highly educated population and historically Egypt has played a leading role in the Muslim world. It was only in the last 30 years that it accepted subservience to imperialism and Zionism and thus lost its prestigious position to upstarts like Saudi Arabia and more recently Qatar. Even Syria claimed one up on Egypt because the former refused to surrender to US-Zionist machinations until it had secured its rights over the Golan Heights. Egypt, on the other hand, surrendered the Sinai Peninsula that remains demilitarized to this day for a fistful of dollars.
Help from the US never comes without strings attached. Often, the price demanded is very high. For instance, Egypt has been forced to abandon the Palestinian people because of the Camp David Accords, which turned Egypt into a virtual colony of the US. Further, the US has cultivated close links with the Egyptian military thereby undermining civilian authority. This will be one of the most important challenges facing the new Egyptian government.
If Dr. Mursi is really serious about moving out of the deathly embrace of Uncle Sam, he must develop closer links with Islamic Iran and learn from its experience. He will have to confront the demons of sectarianism that are not far away. In Egypt, the Saudi-backed extremists will try to make life difficult for him. How he navigates his way around these hurdles will determine his level of success. Dignity and honour, however, are priceless commodities; no price is too high to pay for them but to achieve them requires true commitment.
“Honour and dignity belong to Allah and His Messenger and those truly committed to Allah…” (63:08).