Egypt's American-Made Military: More Mistakes Than Morsi

Somewhere in a prison cell in Egypt former President Mubarak is laughing. Just two and a half years after millions took to the streets and forced him to step down after just 18 days, millions more flooded the streets again to topple President Morsi, the very man they elected to lead them after toppling Mubarak.

Of course what is happening in Egypt is no laughing matter. Since Sunday, at least 39 people were killed, hundreds more injured and more than 160 cases of sexual assaults were reported, including 9 gang rapes. So as inspiring as it is to see people power more alive than its ever been in the country, its all the more discouraging to be reminded Egypt's military is as mighty as ever and the country remains a mess.

In 1992, (the year both the Internet and I arrived to Egypt) Mubarak appointed Adly Mansour to be Vice President of the Constitutional court. Just a few days ago, Morsi appointed the same man to be Chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Less than a year after being chosen by President Morsi to replace General Tantawi (Mubarak's longtime pal) as the head of Egypt's military, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi overthrew Morsi and his constitution, and named Mansour -- the only man in Egyptian politics to be appointed and endorsed by Mubarak, Morsi and the Military -- Egypt's interim President.

I understand why so many (namely President Obama) are careful not to call this a coup. Doing so would force America to observe the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which bars the US from spending money for any "assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree, or a coup d'etat that is supported by the military." Still, America's annual $1.3 billion in military aid was quietly funneled to Egypt in May, as it has been every year since 1979.

But whatever we call it, we must acknowledge the basic facts: A president elected in unprecedented free and fair elections was overthrown by an ever-powerful military that took its cues from an unprecedented mobilization of millions of Egyptians challenging his rule.

Egypt's Foreign Minister called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday to insist that overthrowing Morsi was not a military coup. But in true Egyptian fashion, he got a little carried away.

"There is no role, no political role whatsoever, for the military...This is the total opposite of a military coup," Kamel Amr said.

Amr is clearly overcompensating. The world watched (although American news networks were notably late to the game) as massive popular protests drove more than 14 million Egyptians to the streets on Sunday. This emboldened the military, which gave Morsi 48 hours to end the political stalemate. When he failed to offer any concessions, and instead repeatedly stressed the legitimacy of both his presidency and controversial constitutional decree, Sisi took to the podium and effectively declared Morsi's presidency over.

Sisi's speech was part of a carefully coordinated performance with a diverse coalition that included the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the Coptic Pope, a Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a Salafi leader, and young leaders of the protest movement standing behind him. The Muslim Brotherhood, which for decades had been persecuted under Egypt's military dictatorship, was ejected by the military as quickly as the populace had elected them.

During his inauguration on Thursday Mansour said, "the Muslim Brotherhood are part of this people and are invited to participate in building the nation as nobody will be excluded, and if they respond to the invitation, they will be welcomed."

But before Mansour extended the olive branch, dozens of Brotherhood leaders and their staff had already been arrested, including the group's supreme leader, Mohamed Badie and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater. Morsi himself is said to be held at a military detention center. The charges against the Brotherhood include the killing of 8 demonstrators in clashes outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters, and their leaders were also banned from travelling. In short, the military's actions drown out Mansour's words.

The argument as to why the Military was right to intervene on behalf of the revolutionaries is a simple one: Morsi failed to deliver on the main demands of the revolution. He also failed to unite the divided country. Instead, he marginalized youth, women and minorities and most political parties other than his own, earning the ire of millions of Egyptians who were ready on Sunday to continue their revolution rather than wait three years for a chance to topple him in the next presidential elections. After all, Revolutions don't happen overnight or in 18 days, and by definition they defy the rules of the status quo.

Still, after winning the first free and fair election in Egypt's history, the brotherhood deserved a chance to govern. But Morsi's majoritarian approach was indicative of his political naiveté. In the first round of presidential election he secured just 25 percent of the vote. It was only after receiving an additional 25 percent in the runoff that he won with a total of only 51.7 percent.

Morsi might have had a mandate, but he failed to build any trust with opponents and skeptics. He chose Muslim Brotherhood members or sympathizers for nearly all governorships as well as his cabinet. But his biggest mistake may have very well been deciding to go after the judiciary. By dismissing the Prosecutor General and drafting a law that sent thousands of judges into retirement, he might have solidified his fate. Then, in November 2012, Morsi made matters worse by audaciously expanding his own authority, weakening the courts and putting himself above judicial oversight.

"Morsi today usurped all state powers [and] appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wrote in a tweet at the time. "A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."

Morsi had an opportunity to reach out to the center, with the hopes of uniting Egypt's divided public, but instead, he reached out to the Salafist Al Nour party (which as it turned out would join the chorus of Egyptians calling for new elections and an end to Morsi's presidency).

Put simply, in today's Egypt, there is less bread, little justice and an absence of equality in Egypt -- the key demands of the January 25 revolution.

More troubling than Egypt's political failure is how quickly its economy is crumbling.

Its tourism industry has collapsed, its long-term credit rating was slashed from a B- to a CCC+, and its food and energy subsidies are as unsustainable as ever. Both foreign and domestic investors are too wary to invest, government spending - specifically the cost of subsidies on food and energy - continue to grow. In fact, Energy subsidies alone make up more than $16 billion a year. Worst of all, in the two and a half years since the revolution, despite ongoing negotiations, an agreement has yet to be made with the IMF for desperately needed loans.

Instead, Egypt has accepted $8 billion dollars from Qatar alone in the form of direct deposits and loans. Saudi Arabia has started directly depositing the $4 billion it pledged and Turkey has already sent $1 billion to Egypt's Central Bank. Since the revolution Egypt has received more than $11 billion dollars, from neighboring countries, but at what cost?

Morsi's downfall might have been inevitable. President Obama, who spoke at Cairo University in 2009 may have unknowingly foreshadowed the very kind of ruler Morsi would become. His words, one could argue, might the military a way to explain why this was a necessary move to safeguard the revolution, rather than a military coup.

There are some leaders "who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy."

But no one is more ruthless in suppressing the rights of others in Egypt than the American-made military. While America is considering suspending the modest $250 million economic aid prepared for Egypt, we have quietly released yet another $1.3 billion to Egypt's military in May. A new report on U.S.-Egypt relations from Congressional Research Service estimates "U.S. military aid covers as much as 80 percent of the Defense Ministry's weapons procurement costs."

For more than 30 years, administration after administration has funneled large amounts of military aid to Egypt (only second to Israel). Egypt's military, while it claims to have no political aspirations, is known to control about 40 percent of the country's economy. War games and F-16 jets aside, 500 Egyptian military officers train at military graduate schools in America each year. In fact, the man who heads the military and overthrew Morsi is an alum of the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.

Egypt's military is notoriously corrupt. No one really knows just how much of the economy it controls. The military owns a whole slew of companies, including manufacturers of laptops, TVs, medical supplies, water bottles and tons of real estate, including at the world-famous Sharm El Sheikh beach resort.

Egypt is critically important to American security and military interests, especially its long-standing peace treaty with Israel and control of the Suez Canal. But, history has shown that America will continue to put Egypt's military ahead of its people, regardless of what it might say. This is all the more reason for Egypt's political groups and revolutionaries to find opportunities to provoke a serious debate about the role of the armed forces in daily life as part of the national reconciliation process.

If there is hope for Egypt, it is in its citizenry, especially the brave revolutionaries who finally broke the fear barrier and mobilized to challenge and oust their longtime military dictator Mubarak.

If anything, Egyptians are resilient. They must not allow the military to drive the Muslim Brotherhood back underground. After having tasted power after decades of persecution, it is unlikely the Muslim Brotherhood will retreat without a fight.

"I am prepared to sacrifice my blood for the sake of the security and stability of this homeland,"I Morsi promised us. It remains to be seen if Morsi is in fact a man of his word. But Brotherhood's calls for "nationwide protests" on Friday after prayers to protest the military coup will undoubtedly be answered by hundreds of thousands and in a few short days since overthrowing Morsi, the military has already given many (especially those of us in the media) reason to worry about possible confrontations.

The military has shut down three Islamist television stations run by the Brotherhood, arresting members of their staff. They raided Al Jazeera offices, interrupting a live broadcast of the controversial Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr, and stopped the printing of a paper run by the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood called Freedom and Justice.

It is true, Morsi failed at nearly everything the Egyptian people had hoped and entrusted him to do, chief among them, uniting a divided Egypt. But Egypt's military has failed for far longer, with a lot more blood on their hands. In just the last two years, under Morsi's rule, the Coptic cathedral was attacked, leaving two dead. Under the military's 15-month rule post Mubarak, army vehicles drove at high speeds straight into Coptic-Christian protesters, leaving 27 Egyptians killed at the protest known today as the Maspero Massacre. During its rule the military also sentenced over 12,000 Egyptians in military trials, killed scores of civilians, injuring hundreds more and even had an army doctor conduct virginity tests on women protesters.

This week, among the chants heard echoing across Egypt was the familiar, "The army. The people. One hand." Of course there are those, like Maikel Nabil, who claim the army and the people were never one hand. But if Egypt's army and the people are to hold hands, I sure hope the people are the ones leading.