Top Ten Reasons the ‘Obama lost Egypt’ Meme won’t Work for Romney

The Republican Party is trying out a “who lost Egypt” line of attack against President Barack Obama, in the wake of the victory in the presidential election of Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many in the Republican Party are attempting to cast the Muslim Brotherhood as a danger to the US on the model of the old Communist Party. Some Republicans maintain that Obama could and should have kept hated dictator Hosni Mubarak in power, in the face of the massive unrest that overthrew him in February of 2011. Mitt Romney himself came out determinedly in support of Mubarak at that time.

The Associated Press reported that

“Despite reservations, the Obama administration is relieved that Morsi won without unleashing a new wave of violence and unrest, and without provoking a military coup.”

As they usually do, Fox Cable News left out the first and third part of this statement and expressed outrage that the Obama administration should be “relieved” that the Brotherhood candidate won. But of course that isn’t what the administration told AP. They were relieved that there wasn’t violence or a military coup. (One suspects Fox and its guests were rooting for the military coup.)

The Republicans have a hard time challenging Obama on foreign policy. Romney complains about Obama’s policy toward Syria, but if you ask him what he would do, he says more of the same. The only place Romney’s policies are dramatically different from Obama’s on the Middle East is that he says he can and would bomb Iran without congressional approval, and he will do whatever the Likud government of Israel tells him to do in the region. Romney talks like this to get hold of the $100 million in campaign bribery offered him by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If Americans have anything to fear, it is Romney’s foreign policy team.

Anyway, here are the reasons this ‘Who lost Egypt’ dog just ain’t gonna hunt.

1. Americans on the whole recognize and approve of the democratic impulses of the Arab spring. In polling, 33% say that the uprisings are “more about ordinary people seeking freedom and democracy,” and 45% say it is *both* a struggle for democracy an an attempt by Muslim groups to come to power. Only 17% think it is all about Islam.

2. Americans don’t think the Arab Spring is dangerous. Some 10% of Americans thinks the Arab spring will reduce terrorism. Another 46% believes that the events of the Arab Spring have not heightened the risk of a terrorist attack on the US, i.e. that it is neutral. That’s 56% who are just not afraid of the Arab revolutions (only about a third are, and likely they were already going to vote for Romney).

3. Even in the heady days when the Arab revolutions had just started, in spring of 2011, 59% of Americans believed that either they would be beneficial to the US or would have no effect on the US.

4. Even if Americans could be convinced that the revolutions in the Arab world are solely about Islam, that wouldn’t appear to phase them either. Fully 73% of Americans believe that the al-Qaeda operatives who carried out 9/11 “part of a radical fringe.” Only 22% think that they represented mainstream Islam [they are wrong], and, again, Romney already has them unless they feel the same way about mainstream Mormonism (some do).

5. Likewise, some 59% of Americans say “it is possible to find common ground between Islam and the West.” Only a minority believes that it is not, and they are presumably the ones who would be afraid of Muhammad Morsi.

6. A big part of the “who lost Egypt?” sloganeering is an attempt to scare supporters of Israel, since revolutionary Egypt is clearly going to be less complaisant toward some rightwing Israeli policies than was Hosni Mubarak. But 61% of Americans want the US to be even-handed on the Arab-Israeli issue anyway (Howard Dean is vindicated).

7. Foreign policy is not a burning issue for voters at this point. In one poll a few months ago, over 80% said that Obama should focus on the economy, and only 9% said on foreign policy. If the whole world isn’t important to them, Egypt in particular isn’t very important at all.

8. The Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t anyway actually come to power in Egypt, still being constrained by the military, the courts and other, stronger political movements. Having the civilian presidency in a military-dominated state only amounts to so much.

9. Morsi and the Brotherhood are clever politicians who want to win more elections. Morsi just announced that he would have two vice presidents, a woman and a Copt. It is the first time a member of either group will have held such a high office in Egypt. While it is true that such ‘politics of appearance’ is less important than the actual laws the Brotherhood backs with regard to women and Copts, it is a move that makes it difficult for Romney to depict Obama as having presided over the transformation of Egypt into Iran.

10. The Muslim Brotherhood is not actually a radical or violent group any more, and has begun making its peace with democracy and popular sovereignty. I am critical of it, and a lot of people are critical of it, but it isn’t an extremist threat to the US. On telling the difference between the contemporary Brotherhood and the radical movements, see my book, Engaging the Muslim World

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12 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    “If Americans have anything to fear, it is Romney’s foreign policy team.”

    It is we the disenfranchised providers of the Auxillary troops who are scared witless by the prospect of Romney’s foreign policy team.

    The head of MI5 has just told us of the wave of British Jihadis heading off to Yemen and Somalia and Libya to learn the practical skills. These have caused the need for Rapier batteries on tower blocks in London to protect the Olympics. link to

    The next time the US blunders into a mistake, it is to be hoped we won’t follow.

  2. Juan, you know this very well, then why do you put stake on what American people feel about foreign policy? If Romney gets elected and subsequently bomb Iran, Americans will be behind him, not only that his popularity will soar! Sorry Juan I don’t get why you trust the flip flopping public opinion when you know better.

    • You know, honestly I think the American public is more sophisticated than it seems. (Despite frequently voting against their, or anybody else’s best interests) The thing is, and this is what I find truly terrible, is because Americans inherently WANT to do the right thing that they tend to trust the words of politicians whom use, in particular, behavioral science techniques to trigger a most fervid self-reward instinct. They’re exploited. It’s why so much money is spent on saturation mind-bombing.

  3. Remember when, for about five or six years, American conservatives pretended to support the spread of democracy in the Muslim world? Heck, there was even a minor resurgence, in the form of giving George Bush the credit, last spring.

    Frankly, I like it better when they’re honest like this.

  4. The logical course of action is to encourage the gradual transformation of the region, even if it faces difficulties/setbacks/problems. This is clearly necessary to improve the long term situation.

    Democratic constitutionalism always faces difficulties when penetrating and breaking through entrenched masses of oligarchs. Nevertheless, it is something to clearly be supported. The “alternatives” are nothing more than idiocy and political con artistry. Support for engagement with emerging democracies is only going to be strengthed as time goes on; one simply has to look at differences of political views by age and generational criteria to see this fact.

    The political con artists are going to start hemorraging support and become an increasingly fringe clique in the future. If they don’t succeed now they probably will never get another chance. However, given that their objectives conflict with key business interests and a particular brand of hard core advocate of intervening in other countries, some of their rhetoric would be forcibly reversed if they achieved positions of power.

  5. Those who say that the revolutions should not receive support offer no rational reaction and merely purpose incoherent, illogical diatribes as subsitute for foreign policy. While there are many who will flock to demagogic appeal, those that apply a modicum of analysis find the notions of those who believe that the Middle East revolutions should not be encouraged to be utterly lacking.

    People that claim “Mubarak was thrown under the bus” or offer convoluted and contradictory arguments about what should be done have a lot at stake right now. If these attacks are repeatedly made yet they do not enable victory, they will grow stale and face diminishing potency. It would be a sign that too many voters viewed these contentions as being deficient in rationality and were not swayed by them. Failure would damage their capacity to work in future election cycles.

  6. Well, this is nothing but the ongoing incoherence from Team Romney. And that means just two things: They possess no real comprehension of the world. And, they have no foreign policy. Period.

    That’s extremely dangerous.

    No real comprehender of world affairs would tend to rely mostly or solely on military logic; it certainly generates the perception of an inherently weak or even counterfeit leadership. That’s one of the great powers of a genuine democracy. Just foreign policy from a contitution-based democratic republic needs to, by definition, originate and be sustained solely by civil diplomatic bodies. One has to be up to the intellectual task of understanding, say, Milton’s words on liberty, among other teachers.
    “Morsi just announced that he would have two vice presidents, a woman and a Copt.

    That’s amazing. Wonderful.

    I’ve read most of your suggested reading, Professor Cole, but your book “Engaging the Muslim World” has been problematic to obtain, I’m not sure why. But thank you for providing authentic voices.

  7. Respondents may not consciously think that US hegemony over the Middle East is doing anybody any real good. Yet the power of imperialism is that it plays on emotions, emotions we may be ashamed of admitting we have. Fear and pride make people want power over the world even when they don’t know what to do with it.

    So a fear-based campaign by Romney is not surprising. Reagan pulled that crap on Carter by implying he would have kept the Shah in power if he’d been able. Yet Reagan’s people may have already been secretly and illegally dealing with Khomeini during the election campaign, and absolutely did so after Reagan got into power. He planted the fear that Carter had harmed America by not going to war over the Shah, but he obviously had zero intention of doing it himself.

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