Egypt’s ‘night of the generals’

Hisham Melhem
Hisham Melhem
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When Egypt's generals ended Mohammad Mursi's governance last Wednesday, a year after he was elected president, the question that Washington is still looking for a decisive and final answer for is whether it was a traditional coup, a soft coup or a people’s coup.

It's probable that U.S. President Barack Obama will come up with a vague political decision that does not categorize Mursi's removal as a traditional coup but as a measure supported with widespread popularity. It would be classed as a measure that has not taken on the traditional meaning of a coup, in order to avoid the law that prohibits the U.S. from providing aid to any regime that attains power by toppling a legitimate authority.

The events of that night surprised Washington, which to a big extent was and still is irrelevant regarding what is happening in Egypt. Obama's administration finds itself now in an unenviable position. Supporters of the new coalition, particularly the liberals, who support the army are aiming their poisonous arrows at American ambassador Anne Patterson because she personifies what they consider – in a very exaggerated manner – Obama's biased policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the other hand, the Brotherhood accuses Obama's administration of conspiring against them and abandoning them because after deposing Mursi, Anne Patterson advised them to negotiate with the military and with the “Tamarod” (rebellion) protest campaign. The Brotherhood also considered Obama's rejection to label Mursi's dismissal a coup as flagrant political maliciousness.

In fact, Washington's ability to influence the Egyptian popular uprising since it erupted in 2011 was limited. Washington's moral reputation was scrutinized by the people who revolted against Hosni Mubarak's governance. It was a cause for concern due to the strong and deep American support to Mubarak's long years of governance and due to Washington’s hesitation to criticize Hosni Mubarak's violations of human rights by both Republican and Democrat governments.

The divisions in Washington regarding what is happening in Egypt have gone beyond the traditional Republican-Democrat demarcation lines.

Hisham Melham

During Egypt’s military rule following Mubarak’s ouster, the liberals and the Islamists who protested against the military in the streets – also in a much exaggerated manner- criticized Washington, considering it to be an accomplice of Egypt's generals.

Washington failed during Mursi's governance to criticize his authoritative moves, in which he considered himself above the law, and so this led to liberals and the leftists believing that Washington sleeps with the Brotherhood in one bed.

Obama's dilemma now is this: Any decision he takes to describe what happened in Egypt will lead to angering an important party that will rush to demonize him with even more ferocity. The divisions in Washington regarding what is happening in Egypt have gone beyond the traditional Republican-Democrat demarcation lines. This further complicates Obama's options. Influential U.S. Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy agreed with influential Republican Senator John McCain that describing “the night of the generals” as a coup means blocking aid to Egypt. There are similar divisions among researchers and commentators and in prominent newspaper editorials. Obama, the already hesitant player, is still hesitant.


Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Middle East Report. Melhem focuses on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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