Obama's 'New Beginning' in Cairo Now a Knee-Deep Mess
The White House reaction to the historic outpouring of Egyptians calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi can be summed up as thus: Don't turn attention away from President Obama's heavily touted African tour.
As Obama flew to his last stop on the three-nation swing, Tanzania, Tamarod (Arabic for "rebel") once again stole his thunder: The protesters won as the powerful Egyptian military announced a 48-hour ultimatum for an agreement to be reached on their demands. Otherwise, they'll provide a "road map" for a post-Morsi country.
Still, the White House inundated reporters with fact sheets on Obama's trade initiatives, health and power investments and efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa, along with his new Young African Leaders Initiative.
But the Obama administration is facing uncomfortable truths that dwarf the opposition protesters' inconvenient timing.
First, the protesters, who ranged from niqab-clad women decrying the Muslim Brotherhood's lack of religious tolerance to Coptic Christian nuns, were openly expressing their disgust with Obama and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson for propping up and backing Morsi. "Obama and Patterson support terrorism in Egypt," read one large banner bearing pictures of the two. Another sign showed Patterson happily shaking hands with Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie.
"Anne Paterson will likely go down in history as the most unpopular US ambassador ever for the people in her host country," tweeted Cairo writer Bassem Sabry.
Not exactly the impression Obama hoped to impart upon Cairo with his 2009 "new beginning" speech to the Muslim world from here.
Second, the protesters are right. Obama welcomed Morsi into office as a democratically elected leader -- Morsi won slightly over 50 percent of the vote with around 43 percent turnout in 2012 -- while knowing full well the undemocratic aims of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi's anti-Semitic remarks about "apes and pigs" were condemned yet ultimately forgiven. Today, even after the months of Muslim Brotherhood repression, after attacks on Coptic churches, after the conviction of 16 Americans by an Egyptian court for promoting democracy, Obama was practicing a policy of go along to get along.
"Our commitment to Egypt has never been around any particular individual or party. Our commitment has been to a process," Obama said at a joint press conference with President Jakaya Kikwete in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. "…They went through an election process that, by all accounts, were legitimate. And Mr. Morsi was elected. And the U.S. government’s attitude has been we would deal with a democratically elected government."
Obama said his administration has "encouraged" the Muslim Brotherhood government "to reach out to the opposition and work through these issues in a political process."
"It’s not the U.S.’s job to determine what that process is. But what we have said is, go through processes that are legitimate and observe rule of law," he continued. "…I do think that if the situation is going to resolve itself for the benefit of Egypt over the long term, then all the parties there have to step back from maximalist positions. Democracies don’t work when everybody says it’s the other person’s fault and I want 100 percent of what I want."
Obama boasted that the U.S. was used to compromise in its democracy because "we’ve had 200-plus years of practice at it."
"But our position has always been it’s not our job to choose who Egypt’s leaders are," he added. "We do want to make sure that all the voices are heard and it's done in a peaceful way."