Egypt’s Coup: Revenge of the NGOs?

The US is involved up to its elbows

by , July 10, 2013

The United States government hasn’t decided yet whether to call the overthrow of Egypt’s democratically elected government by the military a coup – they’re still mulling that one over in Washington:

"Though officials did not dispute the fact that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, a democratically-elected leader, was ousted by the military in an extrajudicial fashion, they would not say the word ‘coup,’ which has an important legal consequence for the $1.5 billion in aid Congress sends to Egypt every year.

"'[We are] taking the time to determine what happened, what to label it,’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. ‘We’re just not taking a position,’ said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki."

In the make-believe world of Washington, where reality is what government officials say it is, there is no objective reality: facts are infinitely malleable, and so is the law. Legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President requires the suspension of military aid to countries where democracy has been as rudely interrupted as it has been in Egypt: yet simply by redefining "coup" to mean something other than what it plainly does mean, the Washington crowd can achieve the required result – the continued yearly extortion of US taxpayers to the tune of $1.5 billion in "aid" to Egypt.

The reason for this linguistic legerdemain is no secret: the Egyptian military is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Pentagon. Their top officers, including those who now rule the country, were trained in the United States, and there’s no doubt the Americans knew about the coup long before Morsi.

It’s a weird planetary alignment indeed that has Senators Rand Paul and John McCain agreeing we ought to cut off aid to Egypt – but not even the strongest astrological influences are enough to knock American foreign policy in the region off its Israel-centric course. That $1.5 billion is part of the price we pay for maintaining Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel – and the continued isolation of Gaza, for which Egypt’s cooperation is mandatory. Indeed, it seems Morsi’s biggest sin in the eyes of the Egyptian military was cozying up to Hamas, and we’ll see more evidence this was the catalyst for the coup in the show trial to come.

If the spectacle of militant secularists rioting in the streets of Egypt’s cities makes for a real head-scratcher, then perhaps the recent street action in Turkey can put it in perspective. Both movements supposedly began "spontaneously," and both were directed at Islamist governments which had – coincidentally – recently incurred the wrath of the Israelis, and, therefore, the displeasure of the West. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood made the Israelis quite nervous, and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan’s berating of Tel Aviv over the Palestinian issue opened up a huge gap in what was once a close diplomatic and military relationship.

In retrospect, the arrest and trial of 43 American and European "pro-democracy" activists, including the son of former Secretary of Labor Ray LaHood, seems like a move by the Egyptians to preempt a US-backed coup. Indeed, LaHood and 15 other Americans were convicted in absentia just last month by a Cairo court of using foreign funds to subvert the Egyptian political process. Is the July coup the revenge of the NGOs?

There can be little doubt the US is involved in the coup up to its elbows: indeed, Washington acted as the interlocutor in negotiations between Morsi and his rebellious generals, and tried to effect a compromise whereby Morsi would be kicked upstairs to a figurehead position, with the real power in the hands of the junta. Morsi refused, and found himself under arrest, along with his advisors and top Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters was burned to the ground, and its members massacred in the streets. Islamist media have been shut down, and Morsi’s whereabouts are unknown.

Oh, but don’t worry, says Michael Rubin, one of the more ideologically inclined neocons, because this is one of those times "When Coups Advance Democracy." You may think the arrest and detention of the democratically elected leader of Egypt is a blow against democracy, but then you haven’t quaffed the neocon Kool Aid as deeply as Rubin. "If democracy is the goal," writes Rubin in the New York Daily News, "then the United States should celebrate Egypt’s coup." In the Bizarro World of neoconservative ideology, the nullification of Egypt’s first free and democratic election is to be celebrated … in the name of democracy. While this may seem counterintuitive, to say the least, Rubin sneers at those poltroons amongst our "policymakers [who] equate democracy only with elections." Gliding effortlessly over the question of whether there can be democracy without elections, Rubin avers a "broader truth": "Elections are just one pillar of democracy." My favorite, however, is his argument that the coup didn’t "end democracy, for it had yet to take root" – and it never will take root if Rubin & Co. have anything to say about it! For the pure, undiluted Kahanist view of the Egyptian coup, however, we must turn to David Brooks, who says Egyptians lack "the basic mental ingredients" for democracy.

The Islamists can now claim, with much justification, that they tried the peaceful road to power and found it blocked: if and when they try other means to achieve their political goals, will anyone be all that surprised? The "blowback" from the Egyptian coup is going to be enormous, with both sides blaming the US – the "liberal" supporters of the military, who claim the Obama administration forced them to accept Morsi, and the Brotherhood, who see the hand of Washington and its allies behind the coup. Certainly the Islamists will learn their lesson from the Egyptian events: that for them the road to power isn’t coming through the ballot box.

Somewhere far below the lowest rung of Hell, Osama bin Laden is smiling.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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