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Jumpy Egypt Puts Americans on Trial

Egypt’s decision to press ahead with criminal trials for 43 people, including 19 Americans, has set relations with Washington teetering on the edge of the cliff. Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Joe Lieberman suggested Egypt risks a “disastrous…rupture in relations.”

During the French Revolution, crazed paranoid suspicions of foreign and aristocratic plots swept the distracted country as the economy collapsed. In Egypt today, similar fears are at work: foreign forces are operating nefarious schemes in Egypt, agents and hidden hands are glimpsed here and there. Seen from the street, intrigue swirls through the halls of power in Cairo. Western diplomats and NGO workers become spies and villainous operatives. The middle class twitterati, sons and daughters of privilege who have been cheering for “democratic reform,” are Egypt’s most westernized citizens and must be allied with foreign spies.

These suspicions aren’t confined to popular opinion. The Egyptian military has many officers who are deeply nationalist and suspicious, and they don’t like the NGO types and the democracy activists for a whole host of reasons. It’s an opportunity for the military to promote nationalist populism as opposed to Islamist populism, an important consideration as the military still wants support for its leading role in government. Anti-Americanism is almost universally popular in the country — an issue too good to give up.

Washington’s best approach under the circumstances would be to do as little in public as possible, working quietly to improve conditions for the accused and then arranging quiet departures and settlements.

Making this a controversial issue and putting the US at the center only makes things worse. The more we posture and push, the less our friends in Egypt (and we still have some) can do.

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  • Walter Sobchak

    A couple of Chinooks full of SEALs could solve the problem even faster.

  • Kris

    Eleven carrier strike groups, no?
    Alternately: $1.5 billion.

    Dear me, I seem to have misplaced my nuance!

  • Jim.

    Did all the bright sparks at State decide after the Oslo process ground to a halt, and after the rise and fall and twilight struggle of the NeoCons, that a job in ME just wasn’t the fast track to a fulfilling career? The skill and finesse being shown in SE Asia and the incompetence in the ME right now seems to suggest that conclusion.

  • Brendan Doran

    WRM. Get them out, then stop meddling. Especially the middling, dabbling parts of it. As far as National Sovereignty goes, your own writings damn missionaries.

    @ Jim – our bright lights don’t understand religion. They’re not all that bright, BTW.

  • Brendan Doran

    It’s also helpful to point out calling this bunch of political Trust Fund babies non-governmental is a farce.

    “And, I might add, there is no instance of Sharp’s tactics bringing about a soft coup without tacit cooperation from a country’s security apparatus. For readers who believe in the power of nonviolent protest and Tinkerbell, I repeat: no instance.

    In short, the generals cooperated with the democracy activists during the Tahrir Square protests because they saw a way to turn Gene Sharp’s tactics for promoting civil rights and democracy into a tactic to reinforce their authoritarian rule.

    This curious inversion is one of the many oddities of post-Mubarak Egypt, which finds the country’s ultraconservative Salafist party defending the democracy-building efforts of American NGOs now facing criminal charges, and the absolute monarch Saudi King Abdullah still angry at the democratically elected Barack Obama for betraying the Gamalists — who were trying to prepare Egypt for real democracy by breaking the military’s power!”

  • Kris

    Brendan@5, a late thank you for the link.

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