Cairo: There is little that the angry supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have in common with the secular, liberal revellers in Tahrir Square these days — except one thing. They both believe the US government is conspiring against them. After a year of outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood following the election of its candidate, Mohammad Mursi, as president, the United States is widely perceived here as siding with Islamists it once eyed with distrust.
At the same time, the Obama administration’s cautious refusal to condemn Mursi’s ouster last week quickly spent the goodwill it had built with the Brotherhood — without buying any trust from the other side.
Instead, the liberal forces who drove the revolution to topple Mursi view the United States with even more wariness. “We love the American people,” said Bolis Victor, 34, a middle-class merchant in the Egyptian capital, who said he has relatives in Chicago. “But we hate Obama and Patterson.” That would be US Ambassador to Egypt Anne W. Patterson, a career diplomat who assumed the top post in Cairo in 2011. “She needs to pack her bags. She needs to go home. We hate her more than Mursi himself, and that is something very remarkable,” Victor said. As he spoke Tuesday in Tahrir Square, everyone around him nodded their heads in agreement: They hated her, too. The businessman and his friends were savoring their revolutionary victory, “the popular uprising, aided by the Egyptian army,” as he put it, that forced Mursi from office. And they were sitting under a banner in Tahrir Square that read “Obama loves terrorists.”
In Tahrir Square these days, “terrorists” is the shorthand used by some for the Muslim Brotherhood. After Mursi’s June 2012 victory, the United States offered support of the country’s nascent democratic process and its first democratically elected leader. In the fall, the US embassy hosted a high-level delegation of business leaders in an effort to promote investment. During the conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Americans leaned heavily on Egypt to help broker a truce. But while the US government has rarely been popular on the Arab street, the anti-American vibe among the anti-Mursi crowds in Cairo in recent weeks has been especially pronounced.
Some of the accusations against the Obama administration are beloved chestnuts — how the US government and its ally Israel are plotting to steal Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
But many of the grievances are of a more recent vintage. Opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood note that just days before Mursi was toppled by the generals who say they were responding to popular will, the US ambassador gave an unusually candid speech that many here said was an effort to keep them at home.
“Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply sceptical,” Patterson said in Cairo on June 18, attempting to explain more broadly the US determination to work with any democratically elected government of Egypt.
“Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order,” she said, “and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs.”
When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians packed into Tahrir Square on June 30 to offer a resounding call for Mursi’s exit, pictures of Patterson’s face - an X drawn across it — were ubiquitous in the crowd.
Badr Abdul Latty, a spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was trying to be delicate when he acknowledged Tuesday, “There is a sort of resentment among different segments of Egyptian society against the United States at the moment.”
“We here are trying to explain to the Egyptian media that the American position is evolving and that at the end of the day, the US will side with the will of the Egyptian people,” he said. “This is very important. They understand now” that the US government “is avoiding the use of the word ‘coup.’ “
The US government provides $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt annually, most of it to the country’s military, but U.S. law prohibits the delivery of aid to any country in which a coup has taken place.
When asked how long it would take to determine whether Egypt’s military had carried out a coup when it forced Mursi from power, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, “We do not believe it is in our interest to make a precipitous decision or determination now.”
“This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation,” Carney said, noting that millions of Egyptians had legitimate grievances with Mursi. “There are significant consequences that go along with this determination, and it is a highly charged issue for millions of Egyptians who have differing views about what happened.”
One man at a sit-in by Mursi supporters said Tuesday that the United States was so unpopular right now that Egyptians would fight against whomever the Obama administration sided with.
“The army is trying to convince people that the United States is supporting Mursi, so that they’d revolt against him,” said Eid Ismail, 31, a lecturer at Al Azhar University.
In the background, Mursi supporters chanted slogans against Armed Forces Commander Gen AbdAl Fattah Al Sissi, who led the ouster: “Sissi is America’s agent!” and “America is dictating Sissi!”
“You’re trying to walk the invisible line of self-interest,” said Jihad Al Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. “But you can’t choose both. Now you have people who hate the United States over here and you have people who hate the United States over there.”