The United States then hailed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as a statesman and a moderate last week.
True, he did help bring about a cessation of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza. But in doing so, he wasn’t trying to advance American objectives or the cause of peace.
All of that makes the high praise Morsi received from the Obama administration unnecessary and counterproductive. And the administration’s tepid response to Morsi’s subsequent power grab – neutering his country’s judiciary – fails to make clear whether there will be consequences if he maintains dictatorial power.
“Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence,” The New York Times reported after the Gaza ceasefire Nov. 21. “He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology.”
The president and his aides must not have been paying attention. Days earlier, Morsi stood in Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and offered unwavering support to Hamas and threatened Israel with violent retribution.
“Let everyone know that the size of Egypt and the capabilities of Egypt, and the people of Egypt have rage, and the leaders of Egypt are enraged at what is hitting Gaza,” Morsi said. “The leaders of Egypt are enraged and are moving to prevent the aggression on the people of Palestine in Gaza.”
“We in Egypt stand with Gaza,” he said. “[W]e are with them in one trench, that he who hits them, hits us; that this blood which flows from their children, it, it is like the blood flowing from the bodies of our children and our sons, may this never happen.”
During a Nov. 19 visit to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, Saad Katatni, chairman of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party and speaker of Egypt’s dissolved parliament, continued issuing violent threats of jihad against Israel, saying:
“We are with you in your jihad. We have come here to send a message from here to the Zionist entity, to the Zionist enemy. And we say to them, Egypt is no longer. Egypt is no longer after the revolution a strategic treasure for you. Egypt was and still is a strategic treasury for our brothers in Palestine; a strategic treasure for Gaza; a strategic treasure for all the oppressed.”
The Obama administration has yet to criticize the pro-Hamas, pro-jihad rhetoric from Morsi, Katatni and their Brotherhood associates.
Throughout the conflict, the Muslim Brotherhood – where Morsi had been a senior member before seeking office earlier this year – issued a series of pro-Hamas statements and celebrations of attacks on Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports.
During a protest organized by the Brotherhood and its political arm in Al-Qalyubi, preacher Muhammad Ragab called on Muslims “to raise the banner of jihad against the tyrannical, invading and wicked sons of apes and pigs [i.e., the Jews], and to unite against the enemies of Allah.”
“The MB thanked Allah for the death of Israelis killed by rockets, and called for jihad against Israel,” the MEMRI report says. “The official MB Facebook page reported joyously on the deaths of Israelis. On November 15, 2012, the official MB Facebook page celebrated the death of three Israeli civilians killed by a rocket that hit a house in Kiryat Malakhi: ‘Allah akbar and praise to god, three Zionists were killed and five others were injured in a blast at a three-story building in Kiryat Malakhi from resistance rockets.'”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland ducked the issue of violent rhetoric from Morsi and the Brotherhood when a reporter raised it in a Nov. 16 press briefing.
“Well, I’m obviously not, from this podium, going to characterize the Egyptian view, nor am I going to speak for them and characterize our private diplomatic conversations,” Nuland said. “We all agree on the need to de-escalate this conflict, and the question is for everybody to use their influence that they have to try to get there.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s hostile rhetoric against Israel continued on Nov. 22 after the cease-fire was reached. Supreme Guide Dr. Mohamed Badie—considered by Middle East intelligence sources to be the real power broker behind Morsi— issued a statement describing jihad against the Jewish state as “a personal obligation for all Muslims.”
“The cause of Palestine is of considerable importance. It is not a cause of power, nor of Palestinians, nor of the Arabs, but is the basic cause of life of every Muslim,” Badie said. “For the sake of its return, every Muslim must wage jihad, sacrifice; and expend his money for the sake of restoring it.”
“Palestine and Jerusalem is a holy Muslim land, part of the faith of the Muslim ummah,” Badie continued. “To forsake any part of it is to forsake the ummah’s civilization and faith. This is a great sin.”
The Muslim Brotherhood leader continued, saying that the Jews should not “establish a state for themselves” and should be content living as a minority in other nations.
“The enemy knows nothing but the language of force,” Badie said. “Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords.”
Morsi Grabs Dictatorial Powers
Cairo’s streets filled with angry protesters after Morsi turned around and issued an edict making his decisions immune from judicial review just a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised him as a peacemaker.
“I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence. This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said during a Nov. 21 joint press conference in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
Morsi’s grab for dictatorial power trampled Egypt’s judiciary and gave him unchecked rule over Egypt at least until a new constitution is drafted.
At least 40 people were wounded and a teenager was killed Sunday in the Nile Delta city of Damanhoor when a group of anti-Morsi protesters tried storming the Brotherhood’s local offices, the Associated Press reported.
Washington’s response has been tepid at best, calling for calm but never criticizing Morsi directly. White House Spokesman Jay Carney was asked directly Monday if the administration “condemned” Morsi’s unprecedented power grab.
“We are concerned about it and have raised those concerns,” Carney said.
During a press briefing also held Monday, the State Department’s Nuland tread lightly. Clinton spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr that morning, Nuland said, taking “that opportunity to reiterate some of the points that you saw in our statement, that we want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protection of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld, et cetera.”
She repeatedly referred back to a statement issued Friday calling for calm in Egypt as a result of Morsi’s decree.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called on the United States to condemn these actions and demand they be reversed. “Stop. Stop. Renounce the statement, and the move that he just made. Allow the judiciary to function,” McCain said. “If the judiciary is flawed in some way, then, that’s an illness that can be cured over time. But, absolutely, to assume this kind of power is unacceptable to the United States of America and, then, we can outline what actions might be taken. But, first, condemn it.”
Egypt’s pro-democracy groups also have called on President Obama to condemn Morsi’s decree, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity,” said prominent opposition figure Mohamed Elbaradei.
The opposition forces have formed a National Salvation Front in response to Morsi’s power grab in attempt to circumvent an impending Islamist takeover of the Egyptian government, referring to the move as a “coup” and Morsi as a “pharaoh.”
“I’m against the constitution and the dictatorship of Mr. Morsi,” anti-Morsi protester Horeya Naguib told the Associated Press Tuesday amid protests in Tahrir Square. “He is selling his own country and looks out for the interests of his group, not the people of Egypt.”
Morsi’s decree is his second attempt at consolidating power in five months, first ousting military leaders and invalidating a constitutional declaration that limited his control over Egypt’s army.
Egyptian opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahy said that protests would continue until Morsi’s decree was reversed, stating that Egypt “will not accept a new dictator because it brought down the old one.”
Morsi’s Long Support For Hamas
It is worth remembering that the administration has tried to cast the Muslim Brotherhood in a false light of moderation since the early days of the Arab Spring. In February 2011, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared before a House committee and described the group as “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”
That comment was widely derided and Clapper walked it back somewhat. But a series of Arabic translations from the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website made by the Investigative Project on Terrorism shows that Morsi worked for years alongside Hamas, which began as a splinter group from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s.
As a leading Muslim Brotherhood member of Egypt’s parliament, Morsi wrote a Sept. 23, 2003 letter to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh thanking God for his survival and declaring his solidarity with Hamas’ goal of destroying Israel.
“We thank all of you for your courageous positions in support of our cause, the cause of Palestine – the first Qibla of the Muslims, and your continued support of your brothers on the land of encampment,” Morsi wrote, according to Ikhwanonline.com. “We send through you greetings to all our faithful brothers throughout the world, and we assure you that we are we are pledged to God, and we promise you we will continue to the path of jihad and resistance until victory or martyrdom.”
In April 2004, Morsi actually led efforts in the Egyptian parliament to scrap the peace treaty with Israel.
The Brotherhood’s own website reported that “Dr. Morsi” proposed “a timetable for the disposal of the alleged peace agreement signed with the Zionist entity.”
Later that year, Morsi invoked anti-Semitic themes found in the Qur’an and Shariah law, saying the Jews are “the most hostile of men to Muslims” and that “Zionists are traitors to every covenant.”
In 2007, he said that he and the Muslim Brotherhood actively supported Palestinian jihadism to annihilate Israel through violent jihad: “[T]he Palestinian issue for the Brotherhood is pivotal and essential, and that the Brotherhood offered and still offers full support for the Palestinian resistance to liberate the Holy Land.”
A month later, Morsi participated in a teleconference with Haniyeh, saying “resistance is the right and only way to liberate the land from the defilement of the Jews.”
The list goes on and on. Morsi delivered a brief respite in the rocket fire from Gaza toward Israeli civilians. That’s a good thing. But pretending this one act somehow transforms him into a statesman, or a reliable international mediator is not. It’s reckless.