Is the US winning hearts and minds in Egypt?

Seen either as an interloper or manipulator, the US nonetheless tries its hand at playing negotiator.

    Is the US winning hearts and minds in Egypt?
    A magazine recently depicted President Obama as a pharaoh controlling Sisi and ElBaradei [D.Parvaz/Al Jazeera]

    Cairo, Egypt - Anti-US sentiment is growing on both sides of Egypt's political divide. The pro-military camp accuses Washington of supporting deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, while the Brotherhood rejects any kind of US interference in the current crisis.

    At rallies held by both sides, anti-American chants are common.

    During the pro-military rally on July 26 called for by General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, crowds shouted: "Oh cursed America, we don't want your aid," referring to the annual $1.3bn Washington sends Egypt, with much of it going to the military.

    Meanwhile, chants of "Oh America, why do you interfere?" are often heard at the pro-Morsi sit-in at Nasr City's Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque.

    Indeed, the US has been involved in a flurry of diplomatic activity in the country - its envoy, William Burns, here to meet with the Brotherhood and Sisi, hinted that Robert Ford would be Washington's new ambassador to Egypt and announced an upcoming visit by two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

    Still, speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday, Sisi lashed out at US officials.

    "You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that," he said.

    "Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?"

    Military supporters here are upset that the US has not strongly supported Morsi's ousting, and accuse the US of failing to use its leverage with the Muslim Brotherhood to resolve the current impasse.

    Adel Soleiman, head of the Cairo-based Strategic Dialogue Forum for Defence Studies, told Al Jazeera that Sisi's statements indicated that "the US has a role in Egyptian politics".

    Soleiman, a former general in the Egyptian military, said that the fact Sisi also mentioned being in daily contact with his American counterparts shows that relations between the US and Egypt's military are certainly "strategic".

    Morsi's supporters blame the deaths of protesters on
    US funding of Egypt's military [D.Parvaz/Al Jazeera]

    "Neither side is willing to take these relations to a dead end," said Soleiman, who also said that the US was applying pressure to both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood in order to make sure its interests were served.

    "They are not willing to copy the Syrian scenario or any other scenario - Egypt is a new situation with new conditions," said Soleiman.

    'No leverage'

    The Brotherhood, meanwhile, condemns US reluctance to label the overthrow of Morsi - Egypt's first elected leader - as a military coup.

    "The Muslim Brotherhood is the only political entity in Egypt who knows what is going on - and thus, it understands the role of the US in the coup and understands that Sisi is waiting for America to tell him what to do," said Wafa Hefny, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

    "What he's doing is showing himself to be incompetent. He thinks that the US is all-powerful and that it is the main manipulator of Morsi and the Brotherhood, as it manipulates Sisi," said Hefny.

    "But what he doesn’t understand is that the Americans have no leverage with the Muslim Brotherhood. None."

    US policy 'inconsistent'

    The sentiment on the street is that the US really has no place in Egyptian politics.

    "We don’t care for American intervention," said Ashraf Mahsoub, a 47-year-old real estate broker.

    "We just put our trust in God - the coup was the work of Sisi, the US and Israel," claimed Mahsoub.

    But why would the US want to cause instability in the most populous nation in the region?

    "The US did not think the Morsi regime was stable, because it was against Israel and the US," said Mohannad El-Tantawi, a 20-year-old student at the American University in Cairo.

    Most Egyptians don't know what to make of statements by the military or the Muslim Brotherhood, each claiming that the other enjoys US support.

    "It's difficult for normal Egyptians to know what is happening," said Mohamed Ibrahim, 58.

    "But history shows that the US does not want stability and democracy in the Middle East - look what they've done in Iraq," said Ibrahim, who also judged the US for its lack of action on the situation in Syria, where a bloody conflict between the government and several armed opposition groups has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

    "Every day they are massacring people, and the US hesitates to intervene despite this bloodshed," said Ibrahim.

    "If the US claims it supports stability and peace, it should be consistent with its own claims."

    A week ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that "the final verdict" on Egypt's 2011 revolution was not yet decided.

    "A meaningful political dialogue, for which interim government officials have themselves called, requires participants who represent all the political parts of Egyptian society," he added.

    A US state department spokesperson said on Thursday said that it was "essential that the security forces in the interim government respect the right of peaceful protest, including the ongoing sit-in demonstrations... What we're focused on now is making our position known, working with the Egyptian government to help them get back to a democratic process."

    US 'pragmatic' on interests

    Amr Abd Elaty, an expert on US-Egypt relations at the Al Ahram Research Centre in Cairo, said that the US had a reputation for dealing with whomever is in power in Egypt, regardless of their position.

    "The American government is very pragmatic - the proof is that it dealt with Hosni Mubarak's regime and with SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] and the Muslim Brotherhood," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Right now, the stronger side is the military and the government - but the US doesn't interfere or try and change the balance of power."

    Even if the US wanted to, Elaty does not believe the US has much influence on the Egyptian street, which, ultimately, he told Al Jazeera, is what matters most.

    But, the US would intervene if it perceived a threat to its regional interests, he said.

    "Egypt is a key country in the Middle East, so any instability in the Middle East will lead to instability in the region," said Elaty.

    "Egypt is important for a number of [issues] - the peace treaty with Israel, which the US is interested in preserving, as well as security situation in Sinai, which the US is concerned is becoming a haven for terrorists, as well as the military cooperation between Egyptian and US militaries."

    These interests, he said, typically align with Egyptian concerns.

    Divided Egyptian identity

    Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, is an expert on regional affairs and US foreign policy. All parties are trying to negotiate, despite public statements, he said.

    "Some of the anti-American rhetoric is to be expected. At the same time, all of the parties are trying to lobby the support of the US… the Brotherhood probably more than the military," said Hanna.

    The situation, as it stands, means that the US might not be able to play as visible a role in mediating a path through the crisis as it might like.

    Hanna said that all players assume that the US has more influence with the other party, something he says is "exaggerated to a degree, but there's still an understanding or perception that the US has a role in this - the US can't solve the situation, but it has a role, regardless".

    But to be in Egypt right now is to see what appears to be a protracted battle, with pro-Morsi supporters dug in on one side, saying they're "prepared to die" for his reinstatement, and the government, determined to see the sit-ins cleared.

    But this situation can't go on indefinitely, said Hanna.

    "Indefinite protest has often eroded the popularity of political movements in post-Mubarak Egypt, and the pro-Morsi supporters now run the risk of isolating themselves, due to popular frustration with the country's paralysis," he said.

    "The rhetoric is always going to outpace the reality. Bound up in this is a very serious and deep divide on the identity of the country... this is not something that you can barter away on political package deals.

    "It's much deeper than that."

    Follow @dparvaz on Twitter.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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