Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt: Oh, Those hated Americans; Those Hated Israelis!

By Barry Rubin

Under the headline, "Why Zionists Are Weeping," the Angry Arab blogger posts the following paragraph:

"All the people hate [Mubarak]!" one protester shouted. "He's supporting Israel! Israel is our enemy. We don't like him... Israel and America supported him. We hate them all. We don't like them!"

The Angry Arab didn't tell us that the woman who said that was wearing the garb of a very Islamist person--not just traditional dress--and whatever her institutional connections is surely a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group we're told is moderate and not representative of Egyptian opinion.

But ok let's ignore the identity of the individual and accept the idea that this is what "Egyptians" think. Now at first glance this makes perfect sense. But let's think a bit about modern Egyptian history, which began in 1952 with the accession of the military regime led by Gamal Abd al-Nasser. Now there's a man who hated Israel and America. What did he do for Egypt?

Well, there was some land reform and the old monarchy was swept away. But he involved Egypt in costly adventures in an attempt to take over the Arab world and destroy Israel. There was almost constant coups, instability, and bloodshed. Nasser intervened in Yemen's civil war and used poison gas against fellow Arabs. Islamists were arrested, tortured, thrown into concentration camps, and hung.

In 1956, the British, French, and Israelis invaded but America was the only thing that saved Nasser. Those hated Americans!

Nasser allied with the Soviets who were given basing rights and some Egyptians felt Moscow had become the new imperialists. The economy was run into the ground. It all culminated with Nasser's miscalculation and humiliating defeat in the 1967 war. Remember that one? The war that was supposed to destroy Israel but instead led to Israel's capture of the entire Sinai Peninsula?

Were Egyptians happy then? Well, they were bused in for massive rallies to "persuade" Nasser to rescind his "resignation." Three years later, he died.

Ah, the good old days!  After all, he hated America and Israel. And that's all that counts, doesn't it?

Then came Anwar al-Sadat. He dismantled some of Nasser's Arab socialism and let the Islamists out of the camps (in part to balance off his "leftist" rivals in the establishment). He fought the 1973 war that "restored Egypt's honor." But they like to forget that Egypt lost the war, Israel crossed the Canal, and if not for America--those hated Americans!--who forced Israel to withdraw where would Egypt be?

Realizing that Arab socialism, war, and the Soviet alliance wasn't benefiting Egypt, Sadat changed sides, had a rapprochement with America ($2 billion in aid a year, oh those hated Americans!) and made peace with Israel (all the Sinai, the oilfields, the Suez Canal).  Oh, and the United States rebuilt the Egyptian military with advanced weapons, and all they had to do was not to launch another war on Israel. Oh, hated Americans!

But here's the funny bit. In 2009, President Barack Obama went to Cairo, said a new day was dawning and he respected Islam as much as any human being could. He apologized for the past (saving Egypt in 1956? in 1967? in 1973? a couple of dozen billion dollars in aid?). Who cares? Those hated Americans!

And on top of that, in 2011, when demonstrations broke out in Egypt demanding "freedom," who changed sides and supported the protesters, within hours publicly declaring that they no longer supported Mubarak and demanding change? Those hated Americans, of course.

This is not to say that the U.S. policymakers did everything, certainly the Egyptians were the key factor with their actions. And yet, if the U.S. government had fully backed Mubarak might not scores of demonstrators been shot down in the streets and the protests either repressed or a long, bloody civil war commenced? Oh, those hated Americans!

So after all that, let me ask you a question: Isn't it apparent that no matter what the United States does, the Americans will be hated in Egypt? And if they put into power a new government won't that new government hate them, too? Remember Iran, when the Carter Administration kept trying to explain that it really truly was ready to accept Ayatollah Khomeini's regime and wanted good relations?

So the Americans should be weeping, too, at the likelihood that a new anti-American government will emerge that is really committed to damaging U.S. interests.

What about the Egyptians themselves? Was the anti-American era so glorious and wonderful? Will they be better off without $2 billion in U.S. aid? Might not the best route be to drop these hatreds, seek peace, not reignite conflicts with Israel or the United States? Try really to build a democratic state where Egyptians can enjoy better lives?

Is Egypt going to be better off under the tender mercies of radical nationalists and Islamists? Better off seeking new wars and before long a repression at home that will make them, possibly though it is hard to believe right now, yearn for Mubarak?

Unless, of course, moderation and democracy really do triumph--which is what we hope. Otherwise, the Egyptians may be weeping, too. And if you think that unlikely--and I quite understand it if you do--just ask the Iranians who have spent 31 years (so far) paying for that revolution of theirs.


By the way, I wrote a similar piece about Iran back in 1979 when the equivalent of the Angry Arab--call him the Angry Persian--was writing about similar things. That article seems pretty prophetic now. One day, this one will, too.

And don't worry about the Angry Arab. He lives in the United States, you see, and has a nice living standard in part at the expense of the American taxpayer since he sometimes consults for the U.S. government. 

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