Patterson’s Epistle To The Egyptians

The American ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, spoke to the Ibn Khaldum Center on June 18 2013. The speech occured barely two weeks before June 30 which many Egyptians predict will be an epochal day of demonstrations against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The day is laden with foreboding and anticipation of violence. The speech aroused many Egyptians to vent about dark conspiracies; with the US supporting the Brotherhood in a long term project to control Egypt in exchange for the Brotherhood support of the “American project” for the Middle East. This is unwarranted. It is doubtful that the US has any concrete projects for the Middle East. The US reasons for supporting President Morsi were given clearly and succinctly in the speech. He is the elected leader and the US does not view street demonstrations as a means to achieve change in Egypt today, as opposed to its wholehearted support for similar actions early in 2011. Different times, different policies.

The real problem of the speech is the mere fact that it was given at all; and that once given, the Ambassador ignored the real cause of the current Egyptian turmoil, which is the forced and vile constitution passed by nearly extra-legal means in December 2012. The US may wish Egypt well, and as an American I have no doubt of that. But it is unrealistic to see Egypt making much progress under the shadow of that constitution. The Ambassador is much like a doctor, who seeing a patient with a broken limb, rightly advises against amputation but does not recommend mending it. The least she could have done is couple her stout defense of President Morsi with a call to amend a constitution that violates most civilized norms, including American values.

There were also other problems of a practical nature. The speech puts the US firmly in the camp of the Brotherhood at a moment when its grip on power is slipping. This raises two risks for US interests. First that the Brotherhood will fall from power and the next regime will be deeply suspicious of US intentions. Second, and more alarmingly, the Brotherhood might see this speech as a signal to resort to any means to retain power; thus tarnishing the US with any violent consequences. The speech was all give and no take. It was a willful flunking of “Negotiating 101”.

The best you can say about the speech is that it was too transparent and lacked wile.

— Maged Atiya