State-run October magazine on its July 31 cover depicted U.S. envoy Anne Patterson stoking unrest and called her ‘Ambassador From Hell.’
The military-inspired xenophobia campaign has been amplified by resurgent Islamists, who are traditionally hostile to any infidel influence in the country, and jingoistic reports in parts of the Egyptian media.
“Any relation with the foreigners is dangerous now,” says Hafez Abu Saada, chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. “First they’ve started spreading incitement against foreigners, making people fear them. Now, the conspiracy theories have moved onto anyone in Egypt working with international organizations. This is a strategy to control civil society.”
Though the country receives $1.3 billion in military aid from the U.S. every year, Egypt’s ruling generals were particularly incensed by the Senate confirmation testimony of the new American ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson. She told lawmakers in June that the U.S. had already distributed some $40 million to fund Egypt’s democratic transition and civil society.
Egyptian generals have repeatedly condemned as traitors nongovernment organizations that accept American money, and Cairo prosecutors have started an inquiry into these NGOs.
Greeting Ms. Patterson the week of her arrival in Cairo, the July 31 issue of the state-run news magazine October featured on its cover a depiction of the ambassador using blazing U.S. cash to ignite a bundle of dynamite wrapped in an American flag and planted in Tahrir Square, the revolution’s ground zero.
The title: “Ambassador From Hell Is Setting Tahrir on Fire.”
The acrimony over U.S. pro-democracy funding prompted Washington to recall the U.S. Agency for International Development chief of mission in Cairo, James Bever, who is leaving this month after only 10 months on the job, a U.S. official said.
The continued detention of Mr. Grapel has further aggravated U.S.-Egyptian relations and has been repeatedly raised in meetings with senior Egyptian generals, the U.S. official added. Mr. Grapel and the Israeli government have denied the spying allegations.
In another irritant, the Egyptian military recently said it won’t allow Western observers during the parliamentary elections scheduled for November, saying such a presence would violate Egyptian sovereignty.
“In the Egyptian psyche, the West represents occupation, imperialism and colonialism,” explains retired Maj. Gen. Ahmed Wahdan, the former chief of operations of the Egyptian army.
Even the more liberal parties vying for power are joining the anti-Western chorus. “America does not want for Egypt to become the largest democratic country in the region,” says Al-Sayed al-Badawy, chairman of the secular and liberal Wafd party. “The aim of American funding for Egyptian NGOs is to create chaos and to overthrow Egyptian values and traditions.”
The new mood is also affecting the country’s economic policies just as Egypt is struggling with the postrevolutionary drop in tourism and foreign investment. In June, Egypt’s then finance minister, Samir Radwan, negotiated a $5.2 billion standby loan from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He describes the loan as favorable, with “no conditionality whatsoever” and a maximum interest rate of 2.5%—compared with 4.5% demanded by Qatar.
Yet, news of the plan sparked a nationalist outcry in the media and among political parties. “People were still thinking about the old IMF, the new type of colonialism, and all that hot air,” laments Mr. Radwan. By the end of June, the military council vetoed the IMF agreement as contrary to Egypt’s national interests.
Mr. Radwan has since lost his job in a cabinet reshuffle that also abolished the investment ministry and put an end to the country’s privatization program.
Foreign involvement in the system of crony capitalism under Mr. Mubarak was seen by many Egyptians as unfair, and the country’s new rulers must take this into account, explains the new finance minister, Hazem El-Beblawi. “Deep in our hearts we are very clear that no country can live alone,” Mr. El-Beblawi says. But, he adds, “the immediate popular feeling is resentment, and sometimes you have to listen to the feelings of the people.”
Egypt’s Ruling Generals in Their Own Words:
“The Armed Forces call upon the respectable patriots among the people to refuse foreign funding, and to ask themselves about the objectives of this funding.”
–Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, assistant minister of defense for legal affairs. July 2011.
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces calls upon all the different sections of the population to be vigilant and not to be led astray by a suspicious plot that seeks to destabilize Egypt.”
–SCAF Communique No. 69, July 2011.
“We see four foreigners arrested for attempting to take pictures in the area of the Suez canal, and then the gas pipeline is bombed for the fourth time…. Across the country, in Alexandria, you also find two foreigners taking pictures. And then you come to Cairo and find a foreigner standing on the Sixth of October bridge and taking photos of the central military zone… When you put all these incidents together, it seems designed to implicate the army or to prompt foreign powers to say: ‘The canal is an international waterway and it is our responsibility to protect it.’ ”
–Maj. Gen. Hassan al Roweiny, commander of the central military zone that includes Cairo, in a July TV appearance.
The Wall Street Journal