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The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Ken Allard

o way!” sniffed the money-honey at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port as she re­fused to ex­change my stack of Egyp­tian pound notes. “That cur­rency is so un­sta­ble, we can’t even es­tab­lish an ex­change rate in real money. It’s worth­less pa­per.” Badly jet-lagged, I testily replied that some hu­mil­ity might be in or­der since the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, backer of the afore­men­tioned “real money,” was at that very mo­ment, tech­ni­cally in­sol­vent. While I won the de­bate on points, those Egyp­tian pounds are still with me as rue­ful sou­venirs of last week’s whirl­wind fact-find­ing trip to Egypt.

Or­ga­nized by the West­min­ster In­sti­tute, a McLean-based think tank, our small del­e­ga­tion of me­dia and mil­i­tary an­a­lysts was given ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­cess to Egypt’s top de­ci­sion-mak­ers, the first such pri­vate visit since last sum­mer’s over­throw of the Mus­lim Brother­hood. Our prin­ci­pal in­ter­locu­tors in­cluded the min­is­ter of de­fense, Gen. Ab­delFat­tah el-Sissi; Theodoros II, pope of the Cop­tic Or­tho­dox Church; and Amr Moussa, drafter-in-chief of the new Egyp­tian Con­sti­tu­tion. We also in­ter­viewed busi­ness lead­ers, jour­nal­ists and stu­dent rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, street-wise vet­er­ans of the back-to-back up­ris­ings that top­pled the au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Mo­hammed Morsi.

Bot­tom-line im­pres­sion: While Egypt strug­gles valiantly, this key re­gional ally re­mains in se­ri­ous trou­ble. With tourism down by 85 per­cent and the av­er­age Egyp­tian ex­ist­ing on $2 a day, for­eign in­vest­ment is a des­per­ate, im­me­di­ate need. Egyp­tian elites also worry that the strate­gic stakes (the largest Arab pop­u­la­tion and most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary) are be­ing ob­scured by a Wash­ing­ton me­dia mud­dle ob­sessed with Syria. From grad­u­ate stu­dents — many of them un­em­ployed — to their ex­ec­u­tive-suite el­ders, the re­cur­ring night­mare is that the de­posed Mus­lim Brother­hood will fight to re­gain con­trol of Egypt, the cap­stone of the longed-for Is­lamist caliphate. Given the Brother­hood’s 80-year track record, such fears are not un­rea­son­able.

This also ex­plains why or­di­nary Egyp­tians re­serve a spe­cial mea­sure of loathing for Barack Obama, ar­gu­ing pas­sion­ately that he is the Mus­lim Brother­hood’s silent part­ner. Some of the most trou­bling com­ments:

“Why does the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Obama con­tinue to back the ter­ror­ism of the Mus­lim Brother­hood — in­clud­ing the kind of ter­ror­ism that sin­gles out women?”

“Why does Wash­ing­ton keep de­mean­ing our rev­o­lu­tion by call­ing it a coup? With more than 20 mil­lion sig­na­tures on re­call pe­ti­tions and 30 mil­lion Egyp­tians in the streets, what else could the Egyp­tian army do but carry out the will of the peo­ple? Es­pe­cially when the al­ter­na­tive was civil war?”

“Egypt has been a loyal friend of the United States since An­war Sa­dat and a mil­i­tary part­ner from Desert Storm to the War on Ter­ror­ism. So why are you crit­i­ciz­ing your friends and see­ing Egyp­tian prob­lems only through Amer­i­can eyes?”

While no one was crude enough to men­tion Vladimir Putin as a sub­sti­tute quar­ter­back, the Egyp­tian mil­i­tary is pal­pa­bly an­gry about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s slow-roll on mod­ern­iza­tion. Crit­i­cal equip­ment, like the F-16 air­craft and the Apache AH-64 at­tack he­li­copter, is be­ing de­layed. The lat­ter is an es­pe­cially use­ful coun­terin­sur­gency weapon. Gen. el-Sissi told us flatly that he would not al­low the Mus­lim Brother­hood or any­one else to mount at­tacks on other coun­tries from Egyp­tian soil. By that, he meant con­trol over Gaza and the Si­nai while con­tin­u­ing to pro­tect the eco­nomic “lifeblood” of the Suez Canal. Known threats in those places now in­clude a co­pi­ous flow of weapons spawned by the fall of long­time Libyan strong­man Moam­mar Gad­hafi. Knowl­edge­able Egyp­tians charge that “the U.S. just walked away from Libya once it was over” — en­sur­ing that fu­ture mil­i­tary dis­as­ters were not left to chance.

Some Egyp­tians drew larger and even more alarm­ing con­clu­sions about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tilt to­ward an oddly Is­lamist agenda else­where in the Mid­dle East: Libya, Le­banon, Syria and even Iran. They un­der­stood Mr. Obama’s vaunted Cairo speech in 2009 as de facto sup­port for the Mus­lim Brother­hood, ar­gu­ing that clumsy Amer­i­can diplo­macy ever since has ef­fec­tively played into the hands of fa­nat­ics. Like the lib­eral who be­came a con­ser­va­tive only af­ter be­ing mugged, re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with the Brother­hood sug­gests to Egyp­tians that this is a disease that eas­ily metas­ta­sizes through­out a no­to­ri­ously volatile re­gion.

The good news bright­en­ing this oth­er­wise grim pic­ture is that Egypt, one of the world’s old­est civ­i­liza­tions, is in the grip of its first real ex­per­i­ment with democ­racy. It is even pos­si­ble to won­der if new ground can be bro­ken in the di­a­logue be­tween Egypt’s re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties. Pope Theodoros de­scribed his Is­lamic coun­ter­part as a good friend, re­act­ing to the wide­spread de­struc­tion of Cop­tic homes and churches by point­edly re­mind­ing his Western au­di­ence that “Love never fails.”

In­deed it does not, but pres­i­dents, leg­is­la­tors and most hu­man in­sti­tu­tions do — of­ten re­peat­edly, and some­times in spec­tac­u­lar ways. Maybe that’s why the hum­ble man is the only en­dan­gered species that Wash­ing­ton cus­tom­ar­ily leaves un­pro­tected. Col. Ken Allard, re­tired from the Army, is a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst and au­thor on na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues.

ILLUSTRATION BY NANCY OHA­NIAN

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