West’s stance on Egypt is selfish

Illegal ousting of President Mohamed Morsi has been rationalised and excused

A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi uses a slingshot to shoot stones at police and anti-Mursi protesters during clashes in central Cairo this week. Photograph: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi uses a slingshot to shoot stones at police and anti-Mursi protesters during clashes in central Cairo this week. Photograph: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih


The West’s message to the disenfranchised people of Egypt roughly translates as: “Only when you elect a leader that suits our purposes will we apply the same rules of democracy to your situation as we do to our own.” There can be no other interpretation.

The Egyptian military, backed by the judiciary and mobs on the streets, mounted a successful coup d’état and, with few exceptions, western governments have sought to rationalise and excuse the illegal ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, a democratically mandated leader. Far from unequivocally condemning the anti-democratic actions in Egypt, they have chosen instead to list the shortcomings and failures of his year-long presidency.

Would their reactions have been the same if Barack Obama, David Cameron or Angela Merkel had been toppled in similar fashion? Would they have resorted to the same bland euphemisms (“military intervention” was the term most favoured by the British and American administrations to describe what happened)? I doubt it.

Of the western nations, only Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore dared call the removal of Morsi a “military coup”. The foreign ministers of Tunisia and Turkey were equally forthright, but one suspects their reasons were more pragmatic.

The US, a master of pragmatism, set the tone of the western reaction. Hardly any surprise in that, given the supposed foreign interests of the West and those of the world’s only superpower are so intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable.

The US calculated that it was not in its interests to describe the removal of Morsi as a coup. Had it done so, US law would have required that Washington halt the annual $1.5 billion in aid it gives Egypt, most of which goes to the military. Washington has decided to “weigh the situation”, and will deliver four F16 fighter jets to Egypt.

Bribing the military
Despite the fine rhetoric about spreading democracy, the US has bought influence in Egypt not through support for a political ideology, but by bribing the military. The military was unhappy with Morsi, so they removed him, and the West acquiesced.

Where America (and therefore the West) is concerned, it doesn’t really matter who holds power, as long as whoever it is can be relied on.

In fairness, when stripped bare, Washington’s foreign policy is no different to that of any other nation rich and/or powerful enough for international relations to matter. The sole objective of a foreign policy is to further national self-interest. If, in the case of the western powers, this coincides with the interests of others, such as a disenfranchised population, so much the better. But if not, so be it: the interests of others are of secondary concern, at best.

Politics of convenience
Given the choice, the US would prefer to deal with a conventional, democratically accountable government that is respectful of human rights. But it will deal with whoever it needs to in pursuit of its own interests. And it will switch allegiances. Saddam Hussein was a prime example of a one-time ally suddenly becoming an enemy, as was Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar al-Assad of Syria (who, incidentally, welcomed the coup in Egypt).

The reaction of western political leaders to the events in Egypt can at least be understood, if not agreed with.

But what of the western media, what excuse does it have? Why, with a few honourable exceptions, did the vast majority of journalists in the West stick so rigidly to the official line of their governments?

No sooner had Morsi been ousted than most commentators were referring to his removal as an unfortunate blip on the road to true democracy. Given that Morsi was elected to office and due to stand for re-election in 2016, one must presume this true democracy will only be achieved by the election of a liberal, West-leaning president in Egypt.

Not unlike the approach adopted by their governments, the western media has indulged in some distorted reporting. Morsi did indeed try to emasculate the judiciary, as reported. But he backed down on this. And the “people of Egypt” did not take to the streets in opposition to Morsi, only a small section did.

In fact, most Egyptians support Islamist groups, of which the most moderate is the Muslim Brotherhood of Mohamed Morsi. The ousting of Morsi was not only morally wrong, it was also very short-sighted. The more extreme Islamists in Egypt, and probably across the region, will be strengthened by the blatant hypocrisy of the advocates of democracy.

It would be my personal preference that Egypt elects a liberal president. But the chances have been severely reduced. The right thing to have done was leave Morsi to take his chances with the electorate again in 2016. That would have been in everyone’s longer-term interests.

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