CAIRO — In an Egypt ruptured by violence, veering towards civil war, the two opposing sides -- Islamists and secularists -- can at least agree on one point: The United States is the enemy.
As Egypt self-destructs, with the remaining shreds of stability and democracy eradicated by the military rule, secularists such as Tamarod's Moheb Doss, Khaled Dawoud of the National Salvation Front, and the activist actor Khaled Abol Naga, all have made public statements making clear they are convinced that the United States is rooting for the Muslim Brotherhood. Their evidence? That U.S. aid continued unabated during Mohamed Morsy's brief presidency and that the United States muted any criticism of his power grab, maintaining functional relations regardless of his government's actions. That U.S. Ambassador to Cairo Anne Patterson defended the Muslim Brotherhood from its Egyptian critics, and -- although President Barack Obama has continued to avoid calling Morsy's ouster a coup -- that other members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment have not pulled punches in lambasting Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's takeover. Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) "If it walks like a duck" comment in a press conference in Cairo last week was perhaps the final straw, prompting a "volcano of anger" as reported in the Egyptian press. One headline in the semi-official Al-Akhbar newspaper screamed: "Egypt rejects the advice of the American Satan."
The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, feels equally betrayed. The United States, they say, has barely lifted a finger to help to restore a democratically elected president. (Morsy, as Brotherhood spokesmen have pointed out time and again, was elected with 51.7 percent of the vote in June of 2012.) Even worse, the United States failed to prevent the violent attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood camps in Cairo, leading to 525 dead and counting. As usual, the United States issued wan condemnations, backed by no consequences. Obama's milquetoast statement on Aug. 15 in response to the violence overtaking Cairo was simply more of the same.
Anyone who thinks the United States still has any currency as a defender or emblem of democracy should come to Egypt. America's soft power has been in steady decline since Egypt's 18-day revolution began in 2011. Cognizant of Obama's behind-the-scenes role in ousting Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians were willing to give the country that had supported the longtime dictator a second chance. But unwavering U.S. support, first for military rule under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and then for Morsy, destroyed any remnant of that goodwill.
Yes, the United States made repeated statements against violations of human rights -- such as the infamous "blue bra" incident, in which security forces were photographed stomping on a partially disrobed female protester -- and chided Morsy for his constitutional power grab in November 2012, but military aid continued unabated, a fact that was not lost on Egyptians.
Prioritizing regional security interests and military cooperation over the aspirations of the newly empowered Egyptian people has come at a cost. As Egypt has struggled to build a just society based on rule of law and a government accountable to its people, the United States has come to be increasingly viewed as an enemy, rather than a partner or model.
Having initially raised hopes with his now long-forgotten "A New Beginning" Cairo speech, Obama profoundly disappointed those he praised back in 2011 for "how they changed their country, and in so doing, changed the world." By failing to heed the voices of youth and change as they protested the oppressive military and Brotherhood governments, and only weighing in with feeble criticisms of Egyptian authorities, Obama and the United States lost the Egyptian street. Perhaps the president felt that to do more might threaten the military alliance and regional stability. But neither the White House nor the State Department recognized the seismic change in the Egyptian people. As Naga said, they had "banished fear." But this dramatic shift in the national mentality did not manifest itself in Egypt's post-revolutionary governments. So U.S. officials, who interacted primarily with their peers, missed it. But it was brewing in the street and the tide was turning against Washington -- from all sides.