Washington and Cairo: America's Bitter Awakening

By Zvi Mazel

Western countries, it appears, deluded themselves about the so-called Arab Spring and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it has received $70 billion from the United States in military and civilian grants. Civilian grants were intended to help improve education, infrastructure and develop the economy, as well as further democracy. Grants to the army were meant to ensure the stability of the country and help Egypt sustain its role as a leader of the Arab world against Iran and terror organizations.

Hundreds of modern F-16 planes, Abrams tanks and other state-of-the-art materiel replaced outdated Soviet-era equipment. Joint exercises were held; thousands of officers were sent to the US for advanced training, in the hope that they would discover and appreciate the merits of democracy.

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During the long rule of Hosni Mubarak the army was often called "the silent partner." Generals did not try to interfere in the ruling of the country, though they quietly started taking over greater and greater segments of the economy. First military industries then industrial and trade companies; the army now holds about one third of the economy. The partnership was not always one-sided: during the great bread crisis of 2008, the army started baking bread and selling it at reduced prices to ease the shortage.

Army leaders were careful not to let Islamist militants into their ranks. They remembered only too well the Sadat assassination, carried out in 1981 by a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement during a military parade.

Mubarak, who had survived that day, was convinced that by favoring his generals and letting them enrich themselves he would ensure their continuing loyalty and support.

Yet it took only one week of violent street demonstrations in Cairo for America to abandon its ally of 43 years and for President Barack Obama to tell Mubarak to go. He probably thought that freed of the chains of dictatorship, a new regime would turn to democracy and strengthen its ties with America. It was a very bad miscalculation.

There was an outpouring of hatred towards the United States; worse, extremist Islamic parties won 75 percent of the seats of the new parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood, reaping the results of years of grassroots activism and surfing on the wave of a system furthering Islamic education from first grade to graduation, defeated democracy by knock-out.

What now? America watches impotently as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) now ruling Egypt emulates Mubarak: security forces turn on demonstrators with a vengeance, killing dozens of civilians and wounding thousands as well as imprisoning hundreds. The same Council accused the American University of Cairo, situated not far from Tahrir Square, of fomenting troubles; worse, it stated that shots had been fired from that institution toward security forces which had no choice but to return fire - thus killing protesters. The generals may have been trying to deflect criticism in a time-honored Egyptian manner by throwing the blame on another - and America made a convenient scapegoat.

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© The Jerusalem Post 1995 - 2012

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