The Obama administration support for Muslim Brotherhood Islamists in Egypt is driving the powerful military there against the United States and toward Moscow, according to U.S. officials and reports from the region.
The pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance is undermining decades of U.S. policy toward the Middle East state and prompting concerns that the United States is about to “lose” Egypt as a strategic partner, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.
Disclosure of the concern over the administration’s policy failure in Egypt comes as a security crackdown on pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo resulted in scores killed.
“The Obama administration’s blatant Islamist support is risking the decades-long security arrangement with Egypt,” one U.S. official told the Washington Free Beacon.
“The Egyptians are so upset they might very well give up our support,” the official added, noting the military regime is currently leaning toward seeking backing from Russia, and possibly China in the future.
The United States has provided Egypt with more than $49 billion in both military and economic assistance since 1979. Cairo was viewed as a key strategic partner in the region.
However, the 2011 ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a long-time U.S. ally, as part of the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement began a shift in U.S. policy. At that time, the Obama administration began covertly backing the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-democratic Islamist group.
The policy shift was a marked change from past policy. During the 1970s, the United States successfully diverted Egypt’s alignment with Soviet Union under Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser by developing close ties to Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, and later Mubarak.
“The administration, through a combination of ignorance, incompetence and support for the Islamists is reversing the strategy gains we made in Egypt,” the official said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf rejected assertions that the United States is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We’ve been clear that we don’t support any one party or one group in Egypt, period,” Harf said.
“The future of the Egyptian government is up to the people of Egypt themselves to decide,” she said. “The notion that we are supporting one side over another in Egypt is a total falsehood. We will continue working with all parties and all groups—including the interim government—to help facilitate a move towards an inclusive, democratic process.”
According to the officials, the failed policy toward Egypt is bipartisan. The recent visit to Egypt by Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) was widely viewed by Egyptian civilian and military leaders as tacit support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Graham and McCain said their visit was to support democracy in Egypt, but they criticized the military coup.
McCain was among the first lawmakers to call for a cutoff of support to the interim Egyptian government after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that is seeking to impose Sharia law as a guiding ideology.
On Sunday, McCain said on “Fox News Sunday” that he was concerned about the outbreak of violence and he criticized the administration for refusing to call the military takeover a coup d’état.
“The fact is that it was a coup, and now they have jailed the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the previous government, and that is not the way to bring about reconciliation,” McCain said.
Morsi, who was democratically elected, was thrown out of office by the military on June 30 following large-scale demonstrations by pro-democracy and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo. Other Brotherhood leaders also were arrested and placed under house arrest.
In response, Islamists have been staging large-scale protests in the streets of Cairo since then, culminating in the crackdown by security forces. News reports put the death toll as of Wednesday afternoon at 278, with more than a thousand injured by gunfire and tear gas.
Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement Wednesday condemned the violence in Egypt.
“The United States strongly supports the Egyptian people’s hope for a prompt and sustainable transition to an inclusive, tolerant, civilian-led democracy,” he said.
U.S. officials said there are signs Egypt’s military is taking steps to expand control over the political system.
Current Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is being touted by government controlled news media as a patriotic, Nasser-like figure who should run for president.
According to the officials, since the June 30 military takeover, pro-military groups and backers of the new regime are promoting anti-American policies in news outlets.
The campaign, which appears to have high-level Egyptian military support, also calls for shifting Egypt’s alliance from the United States to Russia.
Numerous photos promoting the theme have appeared at rallies and on social media in the past month and half.
The campaign also has included an effort to expel U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who the pro-militarists say was a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A military source was quoted in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm al-Sabi as saying Patterson was responsible for the killing of Muslim Brotherhood protesters at Rab’a al Adawiya following a reported meeting between her and senior Muslim Brotherhood officials. The reported plot was discussed at a hotel that called for a plan to foment violence that would justify military intervention and sanctions against Egypt.
On Twitter, a pro-military politician, Mustafa Bakri, criticized President Barack Obama for delaying the sale of four F-16 jets to Egypt and called the president “an ally” of the Brotherhood.
In tandem with the anti-U.S. campaign, pro-military news outlets have been promoting a shift in policy toward Russia. The Al Watan newspaper on July 29 quoted several Egyptian foreign affairs experts as urging the government to replace the United States with Russia as a key ally, based on the failure of the U.S. government to support the military takeover.
A pro-military online forum called the “Arabic Military” on July 29 quoted “diplomatic sources” as saying Putin would soon visit Egypt in the aftermath of calls for a reevaluation of U.S.-Egypt ties.
Russia is known to be seeking a foothold in the Middle East following the turmoil in Syria that prompted a Russian pullout of from the port of Tartus.
Russia also is setting up a new naval headquarters in the Mediterranean.
Other pro-military Facebook pages have criticized Obama and praised Putin. One site called “Egypt will Not Fall” praised Putin as “great Caesar and leader” who is offering to sell Egypt 55 MiG fighter jets to replace the U.S. F-16s.