American flip flop, from Cairo to Kiev

American flip flop, from Cairo to Kiev

by Abdallah Schleifer


It doesn’t figure. Or does it? In the last months of former President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, the U.S. government expressed little sympathy or even interest in the massive demonstration of June 30th in which millions more took to the streets demanding that Mursi step down than had demonstrated against Mubarak even at the height of the 25th of January uprising.

But in the days and weeks that followed the June 30th demonstrations and the July 3 military intervention that deposed Mursi, White House spokesmen as well as the New York Times and other prominent media sources in the United States carried stories about how Mursi had been elected in a free and fair election.

And as punishment, the administration partially suspended its annual aid in equipment and funding to the Egyptian armed forces, withdrew from joint military exercises, carried on contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and continued publically to do so even after it was designated as an illegal terrorist organization by the Egyptian government.

Whether that designation is justified or not, is not the point—for American diplomats in Cairo to insist on carrying on such contacts must be conceived by the transitional government as another provocation.

That these provocations have been forthcoming from a country –the United States—with whom Egypt has been so closely allied to for more than three decades, contributes to anxiety as well as anger within Egypt’s transitional government and in the Egyptian media – state media and privately owned as well.

Kiev parallels

But then how can it be that the U.S. administration and most of the American media has supported the demonstrations in Kiev intent on bringing down Ukrainian President Yanukovitch even though he was elected president in a free and fair election and his party secured a majority in the Ukrainian parliament in a free and fair election?

This fact is rarely mentioned in the background portion of the reporting that has been coming out of Kiev over the past few months.

How curious – for if there is one difference between the elections in the Ukraine and the elections in Egypt, it is that while serious functioning political parties have existed and competed in the Ukraine for more than two decades, the only serious political party functioning on a nation-wide grass roots basis when parliamentary elections were held in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, was the Muslim Brotherhood running for office under the name of the Freedom and Justice party.

And President Yanukovitch did not owe the presidential elections (as was the case of Mursi) to anti- Yanukovitch Ukrainians voting for him because they disliked his opponent even more.

But that was the case here in Cairo; where Mursi’s narrow margin of victory over his opponent—Ahmed Shafik, who was closely associated with former President Mubarak—was provided by many voters not at all sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood but unwilling to vote in 2012 for a representative of the very regime they had risen against in 2011.

Framing the issue

American media coverage of Egypt failed to seriously report on the wide-spread attacks by pro-Mursi supporters upon churches, priests, nuns and businesses owned by Christians across Egypt in the days immediately after Mursi was deposed , and then again immediately after Egyptian security forces dispersed the pro-Mursi sit-ins last August.

Similarly, there has been marginal reporting on how violence invariably has been initiated by Ukrainian ultra-nationalist paramilitary –like groups that have taken the lead in attacking police lines with clubs, Molotov cocktails and rifle fire, occupying government buildings and setting the ruling party’s headquarters on fire. Some of these ultra-nationalist groups are openly Neo-Nazi.

But there are different operational premises at work in the U.S. attitude to events in Cairo and events in Kiev. In both cases false analogies were at work

As for the Middle East, there was a growing school of thought in Washington after September 11th that only the Muslim Brotherhood—as moderate Islamists—had the popular support to effectively oppose al Qaeda and similar radical Islamist movements throughout the region.

The analogy here was similar to the opposition during the Cold War of European socialist parties – particularly in Germany and France—to the Communist parties, despite their common Marxist origin.

But the analogy was faulty – there has always been a certain ambivalence within the Brotherhood towards radical Islamism. President, Mursi called upon the U.S. to release Sheikh Omar who had issued the fatwa that Islamic jihad deployed when it assassinated former president Anwar Sadat, and who would later, as a foreign resident in America, be involved the first bomb attack on the World Trade Center.

As for the Ukraine, the U.S. government has been acting as if Russia was still the Soviet Union. In fact it is Putin who has staked out a position as a cnservative defender of traditional religious values in opposition to the West’s life-style liberalism and it has been American meddling in the Ukraine which seems to be igniting a new Cold War.


Cross published on Al Arabiya and TAM with permission of the author.  Prof. Schleifer’s Alarabiya column will now be posted regularly on The American Muslim (TAM), and on Arab Media and Society, an electronic journal as well as the links twitted on a weekly basis to Arab Media and Society subscribers.

Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya’s Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza…and Jerusalem.”


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