This article originally appeared at TruthDig.
He was the first duly elected president in the Arab world and the first in Egyptian history. Now Mohammed Morsi is dead, collapsing on June 17 in his glass cage during his show trial in Cairo—a victim, it seems, of criminal negligence during a brutal six-year stint in prison. His death only highlights the distinct malevolence of a military junta that (illegally) overthrew Morsi in a coup. He languished in an Egyptian prison system that’s incarcerated thousands of others—critics of the regime, mostly—in a country that Amnesty International has described as an “open air prison.”
As for President Trump, he could care less. Egypt’s police state, perhaps the most repressive in the country’s modern history, remains a bosom buddy of The Donald’s administration. And most Americans hardly notice. Foreign policy isn’t of great interest for most of the citizenry, despite the fact that it’s the one area in which a U.S. president seems to have nearly unlimited power and influence.
Morsi’s ignominious demise demonstrates just how far the once-bright hopes for democracy in the Arab Spring have truly fallen. Hardly anyone even thinks about the prospects of democracy in the Mideast. So tight has Washington become with a variety of Arab authoritarians, strongmen and theocrats that veritable tyranny has been normalized in the region. If Americans don’t notice, I assure you that the people of the region absolutely do. Which, to put it bluntly, makes us less safe by empowering Islamist critics of Uncle Sam.
Trump didn’t start the US on the road to backing dictators; that’s been an American proclivity for decades now. But the president does seem to relish and flaunt his relationships with unsavory characters in that region with particular enthusiasm. General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi—the butcher of perhaps a thousand peaceful Morsi supporters back in 2013—is one of Trump’s favorites. Never short on hyperbole, The Donald described el-Sisi as a “great president.” They deserve each other, these two strongmen atop Egypt and the US Trump’s America no longer even feigns interest in promoting human rights or democratic institutions in the Greater Middle East.
How could it? Trump has rather dictatorial designs as well. When President Xi Jinping altered the two-term limit on Chinese presidents, Trump (suspiciously seriously) joked, “He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great. … And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
This is genuinely dangerous talk and only encourages would-be tyrants in the region and worldwide. Unsurprisingly, both Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Egypt’s el-Sisi have also set themselves up to essentially be perpetual presidents. America’s hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds.
Look, this author is by no means a proponent of George W. Bush-style democracy promotion at the end of a gun. A realistic appraisal of US national interests and a healthy dose of restraint ought to inform American foreign policy. Still, Washington certainly must have some values, no? It should expect more from its international partners than a vaguely anti-Islamist stance and willingness to purchase American guns and bombs.
We know, by now, that international perceptions of Uncle Sam distinctly affect the potential for terrorism and thereby the safety of the homeland. The scandal-plagued US detention centers at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, as well as the practice of waterboarding, probably motivated thousands of anti-American fighters, a fresh generation of aggrieved Islamists far more dangerous—and popular—than al-Qaida classic, circa 2001.
It’s also vital to consider the paradox that Mideast countries with authoritarian governments that are tight with Washington also tend to produce more anti-American populations than those with governments adversarial to the US So it was that all 19 of the 9/11 hijackers hailed from just four countries—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon—closely allied with Washington. They didn’t come from Iran, Syria, Iraq or any other nation-states the US regularly demonized, which is instructive. The youthful population of Iran, for example, is far more pro-Western and secular than that of Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Blowback is a thing, and mark my words: The next terror attack in the US will likely emanate from a country Trump considers a “partner.” They usually do.
Morsi was far from perfect, but his legitimate election to the presidency and championing of the relatively moderate Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood offered an acceptable alternative to either secular dictatorship or theocracy in the region. It was a middle path, one that recognized the populist Islamism of much of the population without going full-tilt Taliban, so to speak. There’s precious little such hope in the “new” Arab Spring today in Algeria and Sudan.
The populations of these and future Mideast nations won’t be able to look to the American “beacon of democracy” for support. Trump’s America is ever-so-flagrant in its championing of autocrats. It’s somehow refreshing and disturbing all at once.
Nevertheless, expect America’s sins to come home to roost. They tend to do that. When that happens, we’ll have the wannabe authoritarian in the White House to thank.
Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen