Those hoping that President Obama’s speech about Egypt on Thursday would send a crystal clear signal to that troubled nation’s unelected leadership had to be disappointed. Although the president did announce he was calling off the annual joint American-Egyptian military exercises, he should have gone further.
The reason he didn’t, of course, is that he correctly sees the long-standing friendship between the United States and Egypt as based on mutual self-interest. In fact, if that relationship is somehow salvaged as a result of the president’s approach, then Obama will have achieved a goal of great significance for the entire Middle East.
But it seems highly unlikely that the man calling the shots in Cairo, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, will be persuaded to change his tactics just because the United States and other democracies condemn his brutal campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The brotherhood understandably feels betrayed because its political hero, Mohamed Morsi, won Egypt’s first democratic election but was deposed by the military on July 3. It also should be stressed that it appears a substantial majority of Egyptians, including many who voted for Morsi, were disillusioned by his failure to embrace democratic principles and welcomed his ouster.
Perhaps most Egyptians support the overthrow of Morsi, yet his staunch supporters have a legitimate grievance: He won, fair and square, in the nation’s first democratic election, an event made possible by the “Arab Spring” of two years ago. It’s too bad his administration was so inept.
Obama surely took that into consideration in preparing the speech he delivered on Cape Cod yesterday. But instead of offering a solution to the ongoing violence, which is the immediate problem, the president more or less delivered a lecture on the virtues (and the necessity) of democracy. For the most part he appeared to be preaching to the choir, but the generals in charge heard nothing that’s likely to alter their behavior.
The president has cause not to want Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to return to power, but he must use every means possible to push those controlling Egypt to exercise restraint and move quickly to restore a democratic process.