If there's one point on which all sides in Egypt agree, it's their distrust of the US

What is quite remarkable about the current strife in Egypt is the common ground of antipathy the protagonists have towards the US. So what's the West to do?

Share

There was no doubt in Tahrir Square, among a group opposed to Mohamed Morsi, about what had really taken place behind the scenes. Barack Obama had sent $8bn to the Muslim Brotherhood in return for allowing Israel to seize much of the Sinai; the military had subsequently discovered the plot and stepped in to do their patriotic duty.

Across Cairo, where Islamists had continued to gather at Nasr City demanding the release and reinstatement of Mr Morsi, there was a variation on the tale. The sum was $10bn and it had been paid directly to the head of the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and a corrupt cabal of senior officers to carry out the coup; the Sinai and the Rafah crossing into Gaza going to Israel as part of the deal.

Wild and extraordinary rumours are often the staple currency in a state in turbulence and the Middle East is hardly a stranger to conspiracy theories. But what is quite remarkable about the current strife in Egypt is the common ground of distrust and antipathy the protagonists have towards the US.

In turn, the Americans and its European allies seem at a loss as to how to react to the violence and uncertainty in the Arab world’s most populous state. Washington has avoided the “C” word – acknowledging that a coup had taken place would mean that the US administration would have to suspend the $ 1.3bn aid package it sends to the Egyptian military every year. At the same time, confusing and contradictory messages are sent from Washington about the army’s actions and the mass arrests which have followed.

In an attempt to bring clarity and exert influence, William J Burns, the Deputy Secretary of State, arrived in Egypt this week. He met the country’s military-backed interim leaders; but two of the groups which had opposed Mr Morsi – the Salafist al-Nour party and Tamarod, which had mobilised the protests on the street – refused to see him.

There was no meeting with the Brotherhood either. Mr Burns was invited to their sit-in; this was rejected on security grounds. The movement’s officials were asked to come to the US embassy instead, but they declined, fearing arrest on their way to or from it, and would thus join much of the leadership already in custody. The Americans, apparently, could not guarantee them safe passage.

The UK, with far less stake in the country, does not excite the same passions as the Americans. Indeed senior leaders of the Brotherhood felt the need to regularly meet British diplomats while they were in power, and members of Tamarod and other anti-Morsi groups continue to do so now.

London’s position is that the Brotherhood must not be marginalised, but encouraged to take part in the elections supposedly held next year. It too avoids the “C” word, but some exports licences for arms to the military have been suspended. The Whitehall view is that prosecuting Mr Morsi – who is facing a number of possible charges including treason – and his colleagues should be discouraged because that would pose huge obstacles towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation, however, is going to be anything but easy in apolitical landscape polarised and mired in bitter accusations and recriminations. One might have expected that even opponents of the Brotherhood would have been deeply worried about the 51 Morsi supporters killed and more than a hundred wounded by the army and police on the worst day of violence.

But sympathy was in short supply. A young man acting as my translator, who had taken part in protests which led to the departure of Hosni Mubarak, said he felt sorry at a personal level for the injured and the bereaved families we met at a hospital that morning. But “you know, when they were in power they did some terrible things, they used the police and their own thugs to beat, kill people who opposed them. So no, I won’t feel sorry for long”. Another activist, warned: “Don’t be taken in by the Islamists. We think the international media has been giving them an easy ride”.

It is true that the Brotherhood and its supporters went to great efforts to cultivate the journalists, welcoming and accessible at their rallies, asking us to see through the propaganda of the “extreme secularists” (“Do we really seem to you like terrorists?”). Tahrir Square, where their opponents congregated was, on the other hand, often hostile and, for female journalists, dangerous.

Outside Cairo things were different. In Alexandria I discovered supporters of the Brotherhood had been carrying out targeted killings of opponents. There were no other foreign journalists there and so no charm offensive by the Islamists to win us over. The officials I did get to meet, after prolonged negotiations, were guarded and suspicious.

The local media faced severe intimidation. “The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists put up pictures of journalists on their websites saying they are wanted,” said one reporter, Mohammed el-Ghani. “Of course we have to do our job, but it's worrying for us and our family. The foreigners stay in Cairo, I don’t think they really know what’s going on in the rest of Egypt. People here think they have an agenda in not showing what’s going on here. ”

In Cairo, the trial of Hosni Mubarak was restarting . After the proceedings were adjourned a few of the lawyers spoke about the case and, inevitably, the talked turned to which countries had secretly plotted for and against the strongman who had ruled for more than 40 years. Not far from the courthouse were broken windows, damaged cars, lumps of rocks, abandoned banners: the debris of the previous night’s street battles and a sign of just how much the vision of a democratic, pluralist post-Mubarak society had faded away. The killings have continued on a regular basis since then; there are no signs of the political impasse ending; attitudes, if anything, have hardened. Egypt continues on its uncertain path in the Arab Autumn with the West seemingly ineffectual but firmly placed in the popular imagination playing roles in a dark narrative of conspiracy and intrigue.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage