America Accused of Promoting Sectarian Tension

Yahia al-Gamal

Today, the Deputy Prime Minister, Yahia al-Gamal, publically accused the United States and Israel of fermenting sectarian tension in Egypt. This was on the heels of a similar statement made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Though it was not their only commenton the matter, which included introspection and self-critique, it continues a path of blaming outside forces, particularly the discredited Israelis.

That the United States was named was particularly surprising to me. On the one hand, the US is still a primary benefactor of Egypt. On the other, as an American, it is difficult to imagine my nation involved in such evil. I can imagine our international pressure, our use of spies, even our meddling in governments and coup d’etats. Such examples are well documented in history.

As a nation we like to believe in our goodness, and I believe that at base this is not a lie. Yet we should not be deceived that our primary motivation, like that of all nations, is for our interest. While pursuit of self-interest is not necessarily evil, it is sub-good. Morality demands the pursuit of the interest of others, along with self.

I discovered a very interesting article today about US history in Syria. Today there is near universal condemnation of the regime, although, in an indirect way, the US had a hand in creating what now exists. The story goes back to 1947, and has stunning old interview footage with Americans who had a hand in ‘democracy promotion’. Here is an excerpt for the article to introduce the subject:

What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad’s archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite – and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that “the Syrian people are naturally democratic” and that all that was necessary was to get rid of the elites – and a new world of “peace and progress” would inevitably emerge.

What resulted was a disaster, and the consequences of that disaster then led, through a weird series of bloody twists and turns, to the rise to power of the Assad family and the widescale repression in Syria today.

I thought I would tell that story.

Click here to read it.

What strikes me at the start of the story is the innocence of the American effort. From appearances, we really were trying to help. As our attempts stalled, however, our interference became more and more direct, until we alienated the population altogether. Development of the Syrian autocracy lies in their own hands, but the United States gave a good, inadvertent jump start to the process.

Conspiracies abound in this part of the world, and while I usually do my best to consider the purported reality behind each one, I cannot bring myself to make sense of how the US profits if Muslims and Christians are killing each other in Egypt. Perhaps I am unwilling to. Less biased readers are invited to fill in the story in the comments.

What we should never do, however, is doubt our own potential for evil. Small moral compromises – even for the sake of good – can easily lead to greater and greater sins. I also believe the maxim to be true: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The power of the United States is not absolute, certainly not in Egypt. Yet if we do not consider our own corruption, we are helpless to prevent its occurrence.

Today, one friend explained the comment from the Armed Forces as indicative of their frustration that the United States is now speaking directly to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. During the days of Mubarak, the government kept a monopoly on international communication. ‘Manipulation of Islamist groups’, as stated, can simply mean this.

Or it could mean more. I would hope the comments of the deputy prime minister are only a rhetorical play to his audience. Politicians the world over can make exaggerated statements for effect, serving whatever interests they believe fitting. It was not too long ago that Islamist groups called for the dismissal of al-Gamal, due to his supposed anti-Islamist viewpoints. Maybe he is mending fences.

The point is, we do not know. We have many historic national sins; we may have unknown present ones. I doubt the accusation is true. I hope the accusation is not true. Please, may the accusation not be true.

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