The trial against 47 NGO workers (16 of whom are American) began in Cairo yesterday.
The case is being whipped up by Egyptian officials who held important posts in the Mubarak government. Mubarak’s strategy was to tolerate, or often support, anti-Americanism even as his government took money from the United States. Indeed, whipping up anti-Americanism in public often provided a cover for taking U.S. money.
Now these officials, in a weak political position because of their deep connections to a hated dictator, are whipping up anti-Americanism to burnish their “nationalist” credentials.
While this is just the old game under new circumstances, the Egyptians are being less reponsible about it than before. They never used to let things come to an open rupture—in part because Egyptian officials have no other alternative and in part because they blame their current difficulties on what they see as an American betrayal of the regime in which they once served.
This new irresponsibility of the ruling elite meshes with the power struggle under way in Egypt, where being more anti-American than thou is seen as a way to power. It is a cause that can unite Islamists and nationalists, which is important now as the army and Muslim Brotherhood look for ways to work together.
UPDATE: Reports this afternoon suggest that the Americans involved in the case will be allowed to leave Egypt. If the exodus actually takes place, that will turn down the heat on the diplomatic side of the affair, though the Egyptian citizens charged with illegal acts are still in trouble.