Mursi: Godsend for America
Washington, Nov. 27: If Gen. Pervez Musharraf had been looking for a post-retirement job while in exile, it is likely that Egypt’s embattled President Mohammed Mursi would have liked to hire him as a consultant on strategy.
Mursi could now use Musharraf’s considerable skills that kept him in power for almost a decade as the Pakistani tail that wagged the American dog so successfully that there was huge vacuum in Washington in place of what was purportedly its policy towards Islamabad for the better part of the wily general’s rule.
Not that Mursi has done badly by himself. As pundits from New York to Tokyo and from London to Sydney hold forth ponderously on Mursi’s power grab and his Muslim Brotherhood’s limits of tolerance, an understated chapter in recent events is how an Islamist hated by America until the other day has overnight become a hero in Washington.
Even more understated is how a fire-breathing fundamentalist who became Egypt’s first ever President to be chosen in a free election has quickly succumbed to the notorious charms of America.
When Mursi has let his guard down without hesitation and embraced the US, can anyone blame Lohiaite Mulayam Singh Yadav for agreeing to India’s nuclear deal with the US following a mystery visit by his then aide Amar Singh to New York or other Indian politicians for giving in to American lobbying in New Delhi?
When Hillary Clinton stood before the world media in Cairo six days ago and said that “I want to thank President Mursi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence,” most of her audience took the compliment in their stride.
The US secretary of state went on to say that “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace”.
Mursi has taken the same path that Musharraf chose from 1999 to 2008 — when his back was finally put to the wall — to work out an entente cordiale with the Americans and the Obama administration has played ball so far.
At the time Musharraf overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup and assumed total power, Pakistan was a basket case. The chief of army staff clawed his way into the presidency in June 2001 and, thereafter, the Americans bailed his country out with generosity of historic proportions that flowed from the US treasury year after year.
In Mursi’s case the Obama administration recently helped negotiate an IMF package of $4.2 billion which will be critical to Egypt’s unstable economy that has been worsened by political turmoil. Cairo is already the second biggest recipient of American aid after Israel and that aid continues.
Mursi, in turn, returned the favour to the Obama administration by brokering a ceasefire in Gaza. It saved Barack Obama from being accused of being not adequately supportive of Israel — which is true by the President’s instinct and probably by his beliefs deep down — had the conflict in Gaza dragged on.
In a sense, Mursi bailed out Benjamin Netanyahu as well: with Hamas missiles reaching Jerusalem for the first time, Israel’s Prime Minister decided to call a halt to the military campaign against Hamas after just eight days although the spin from Tel Aviv created the fašade that Netanyahu had won the battle decisively. It was Mursi who provided the fig leaf.
So, all in all, streaks of Hosni Mubarak are back in power in Cairo, as of now, in the persona of Mursi. And that suits Washington as much as it suits Tel Aviv.
Egypt’s new President is actually a godsend for the Americans. He is the only leader to emerge from the Arab Spring in all of West Asia and North Africa who can validate the democratic aspirations that are sweeping the entire region because he is an elected President who won fair and square.
Institutionally, the state department, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Washington establishment that cobbles together America’s foreign and security policies have all been wary of democracy in the Arab world.
Historically America has been more comfortable with dictators in client states and it has found business with democracies more challenging than with the likes of Musharraf and Mubarak.
But Obama cannot be George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan in typical American dealings with dictators. However, Mursi is an ideal candidate for traditional endorsement by the Washington establishment. But even if he succeeds in his current power grab the Americans can repeat the mantra that Mursi was democratically elected by the Egyptian people.
Mursi has taken yet another leaf from Musharraf’s copy book. He is scaring the world that if not for him, the more extreme Salafists would come to power with support from the Saudis who want to network their version of leadership of the Arab world.
Musharraf told both the Bush administration — and Bill Clinton earlier — that he was the bulwark that stood between Pakistan and a radical, Taliban-type takeover of the country. The Americans bought that argument hook, line and sinker. They even told India after the attack on parliament during NDA rule not to turn up the heat on Islamabad for this reason.
There are enough indications that Mursi may get away with this argument after all and be able to hold on to his latest repressive edicts. Yet, he may just have committed the one big mistake that Musharraf also made.
The former President unwisely took on Pakistan’s judiciary and dismissed the Supreme Court Chief Justice. That eventually led to his downfall and exile.
Mursi may well be repeating Musharraf’s error in Egypt by eviscerating the judiciary. Whether he can do better that Musharraf in the “Musharrafisation” of Egypt will become clear in weeks if not months.