The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Egypt Trial Reveals Persistent Anti-Americanism in Government

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.

Published on February 29, 2012 9:00 am
  • Shiblee

    Too much sorrow matter . American are bad student of History .Mubarok tolerate, or often support, anti-Americanism. It is not true rather he was slaves of America . He was the person by whom America had snatched Egyptian people ‘s freedom .

  • Greg

    I agree with Shiblee. It’s looking more and more like all these years, the US has been snatching away Egyptian people’s freedom to be oppressed by a harsh, medieval dictator of their own choosing. Now that the mask is off, can the US please stop sending $2bn/yr over there in foreign aid?

  • http://theweeksreview.blogspot.com Dale Weeks

    Not one of these “Arab Spring” upheavals (I hesitate calling them revolutions) has rendered a better country, rather, they have rendered more chaos.

  • Dan Irving

    @Shiblee

    Don’t worry – soon we’ll stop the flow of 1.8 billion dollars into your country and you can see what kind of ‘freedom’ your MB brothers will give you. I just hope you aren’t a woman … or a jew … or a Christian …

  • EvilBuzzard

    They are an organic culture, we are a managerial one. They live by ethnic and religious identity, Americans mock these things. They are so totally and utterly incompatible with who and what Americans are, we are very fortunate that these 16 workers haven’t been torn apart yet by a howling, angry mob.

  • Steevo

    I hope Dan is correct and we eventually stop the 1.8 billion in aid. This person Shiblee’s understanding of freedom is nationalist/religionist bigotry. My values don’t define it as a mere identity. It’s a hatred for human rights toward woman, gays, Jews, Christians… ‘infidels’. Rights that are, right.

  • Gringo

    Shiblee
    American are bad student of History ….He[Mubarak] was the person by whom America had snatched Egyptian people ‘s freedom.

    Dictator Mubarak succeeded dictator Sadat.
    Sadat succeeded dictator Nasser.
    Nasser led an army coup/”revolution” against the King.

    Who snatched freedom from whom? Sounds as if Shiblee is the bad student of history. Egyptians are perfectly capable of snatching freedom from other Egyptians. Look at Nasser. Et al.

    While you’re at it, Shiblee, why don’t you blame Americans for the thousands of years of autocratic government Egypt has had? From the Pharohs to Alexander to the Roman Emperors to the Caliphs to Farouk to Nasser to Mubarak, Egypt has always been ruled by autocrats and dictators.

    May Egypt live on what food it can harvest from the Nile valley and delta.

  • Perry

    Egypt and the others in the throes of change are operating in a context not lending itself to orderly transitions of power. There is little democracy in the western sense of the word. What they get now may be the first of several attempts. maybe all the US can do is watch and try to be helpful when asked.

    There is every reason to be gratified to see people want to be free. There is no reason to think their version will look like ours.

    Lots of Egyptians are hungry. I don’t see how they can blame much of that on us.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Quien con perros se echa, con pulgas se levanta.

    They who lie down with dogs, will arise with fleas.

  • Steve Adams

    Yes please give the Egyptians their “freedom” and let us keep our $2 billion a year.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    Nice to know the seeds of goodwill the US has sown, over 3 decades of friendship with key Muslim allies – Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia – are bearing such healthy fruit. Well, if not friendship, at least quasi-friendly investment? From which, presumably, at least the investors have benefited?

    What is it anyway, about American patterns of friendship with Muslim countries? Something I can’t quite get a handle on. On the one hand, the more OPEN their economies become to foreign investment, pressure, leverage, etc, the more deeply (hotly?) Muslim – and in sense more CLOSED – their societies become. And the hotter the temperature of their Islam, they less friendly they are to anything or anyone American. And yet the more they’re plugged into the global information economy, the more exposed they are to things American. Which in turn makes their societies more Islamized in response, more dysfunctional (or more discordantly functional?), less efficient, poorer, and more dependent on foreign (including US) aid.

    Somebody help me here, please . . .

  • richard40

    To JR Yankovic.
    Interesting analysis.
    I think the problem is more with the muslims than us. For example, if you look at non-muslim asian countries where the US had a close association, like S. Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong, their societies became steadily more free and more prosperous. Similarly when Eastern Europe broke away from the USSR. Only Muslim countries had no improvements in freedom, and if you compare Iran to Egypt, it didn’t seem to matter whether they were close to the US or not, neither had any improvements in freedom. As for the Arab Spring, I am not very optimistic. It is hardly an improvement to replace an autocratic dictator with a one time election that elects an islamic dictatorship.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    My sincere thanks for the help, richard40. And you’re absolutely right: US influence is no automatic, across-the-board impediment to democratization. But somehow I can’t resist the impression that there was something FUNDAMENTALLY different about those US elements most invested (for whatever reasons – and I’m sure there were many) in the freedom of the Pacific Rim, or even of Eastern Europe – as against those other US interests most invested in the free flow of Persian Gulf oil. And I say this knowing these “different” Americans were often one and the same individuals: hey, far be it from me to suggest human creatures aren’t complex and many-faceted. But if you’ll permit me the metaphor: The former “group”, if i’m not mistaken, would have been much more aware of the hegemonial threat Red China posed to its neighbors, much less appreciative of its value as a counterweight to Soviet influence. Whereas I get the impression the latter “group” would have done pretty much anything, sided with pretty much anyone (including a Khmer Rouge-supporting Red China), that promised not only to shut the Soviets out of the Middle East, but to keep that region open to Western economic penetration. And that quite regardless of the wishes of local populations. In other words, even if some reform-minded group in a given country was determined, say, to foster the growth of civil liberties and secular representative institutions, WAS anti-Soviet, AND YET threatened to be prickly and independent-minded about the terms under which it would continue to supply oil – well then, from now on we’d just have to shop for our favored local clients elsewhere. The lesson being, in short, when it comes to the “Westernness” of one’s local political allies, sometimes investors can’t afford to be choosers? I wonder also if there hasn’t been a peculiar – even unique? – dynamic to the interface between American interests and Islamist elements in the Middle East. One, maybe, that helps to perpetuate the worst (i.e., most cynical) attitudes of both, at least in their dealings with EACH OTHER? Something, say, on the order of: “Why, you can be as ‘medievally’ Islamist as you like, so long as you guarantee us a steady flow of oil at reasonable prices.” “And YOU, in turn, can be as undemocratically exploitative of our resources and people as you like, so long as you don’t interfere with our progress in promoting Islamist agendas, whether here at home or abroad.”

    As for East Asia, the way I figure it (rightly or wrongly) is this: So far as the weakness or unpopularity of Communism in Pacific Rim countries depended on the growth of civil liberties and representative government, I can’t see why any thinking American should have stood – for long anyway – in the way of greater democratization. And eventually we didn’t. That is, eventually we learned from the experience of our own occupation of Japan: namely, that cohesive, self-governing local populations were a far better long-term defense than strongman-dictators against both Communist penetration and Chinese hegemony.

    My own TENTATIVE conclusions (and I know these may sound cynical) about US promotion of democracy in the Cold War? So far as “freedom and democracy” in a given country actually facilitated the readiness of local populations to LET US IN, we were happy to promote them. So far as they DIDN’T facilitate that result? “Well, perhaps it’s time you unruly folks learned some hard lessons about the value of global aggregates, as opposed to local concentrations, of freedom, stability and prosperity.”