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Anti-Americanism in the Age of Obama

“Wake up, America,” said one of the signs waving amidst Sunday’s massive protest on in the streets of Cairo, “Obama backs up a fascist regime in Egypt.”
Outraged anti-Americanism has long been a staple of these Middle Eastern protest movements, and such slogans, always written in English for the benefit of an American audience, are usually easily ignored. This time around is different, though, because now the sloganeers are right. President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed government is indeed a fascist regime, at least in the sense that it is totalitarian and supremacist and imposes its will with a vicious brutality, and it is indeed backed up by Obama, at least in the sense that he ushered it into power by withdrawing support from the previous Hosni Mubarak government, offered rhetorical support and official recognition of the succeeding Morsi government, and has provided it considerable financial and military support. The hundreds of thousands of protestors who filled the streets of several Egyptian cities on Sunday clearly believe the American policy is harmful to their country, and it is hard to see how it is doing ours any good.
Although one must concede the possibility that it was all well-intentioned, and based on the most admirably anti-colonial and sensitive idealism, the administration’s Egyptian policy has been a series of catastrophic missteps. Mubarak was a dictator by any definition, and the same sorts of slogans as we cited above would have undoubtedly appeared in the inevitable protests if America had continued its support of his regime, but he was relatively benign by regional standards, kept the country’s hopelessly inefficient economy more or less afloat, and was resigned to a tense peace with Israel, so at least the Arab street would have been angry at America for acting in its national interest. By pushing Mubarak out and helping to usher in the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that proudly proclaims “Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations,” the administration now has the Arab street hating us for supporting a government that also hates us.
This was also entirely predictable and widely predicted. The Muslim Brotherhood’s program of religious fanaticism, bellicose xenophobia, and medieval nostalgia was never going to modernize Egypt’s moribund economy or corrupt social institutions enough to provide a tolerable life for its citizens, making the current uprising inevitable, and no amount of American money or appeasement could have prevented the country’s slide into its current sorry state. The current protests might be brutally squashed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s famously vicious thugs or perhaps the country’s seemingly ambivalent military, with America getting much of the blame in either case, or it will lead to a new government that comes into power with a deep-seated mistrust of America’s promises. There’s no guarantee that any new government will not be any friendlier to western interests, as the current unrest is due to economic conditions and an Islamist party with promises of hope and change and a stimulus package might win the day, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll fare any better than their predecessors.
There was no course Obama might have steered that would endeared America to Egypt’s unfortunate citizens, but he should have figured that out back when he was constantly criticizing the Bush administration for every anti-American sign that was waved in a Middle Eastern protest rally. At least America was hated for acting in its own self-interest in those dark days, and not for its ill-advised support of a government that hated us all along. Wake up, America, indeed.

— Bud Norman

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