CAIRO — As rival camps of Egyptians protest for and against the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi, there is a rare point of agreement: America is to blame.
Anti-Americanism, which has long been an undercurrent here, is erupting again as Egyptians battle over the future of their country. Each side accuses the United States of backing the other and alleges conspiracies in which the Obama administration is secretly fostering dissent in an attempt to weaken Egypt.
It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quagmire in which the U.S. appears to have alienated both sides, underscoring waning American influence and credibility as it attempts to navigate the turmoil.
Islamists at a large pro-Morsi rally Friday afternoon questioned how the U.S. — which claims to stand for the rule of law and free elections — could so quickly abandon Egypt’s first democratically elected president and fail to condemn, or even acknowledge, Wednesday’s military coup.
“The morals of America are not being reflected in their politics toward Egypt,” said Sharif Hegazy, 37, who manages the Cairo office of a U.S. company he preferred not to name. “Because of its past support for [deposed President Hosni] Mubarak, America has always been seen as a veiled enemy. Now they are just waiting to see which side will win. That’s not ethical. The U.S. should support the election.”
Though U.S. officials and analysts say American influence in Egypt is increasingly limited, many Morsi supporters are convinced that a U.S. hand is at work behind the scenes in the country’s recent troubles. A common viewpoint expressed on the streets is that the Obama administration worked with the Egyptian army to cause power outages, fuel shortages and other problems that soured public support for Morsi.
The deposed president’s supporters complain that the U.S. never supported Morsi because of his roots in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
“The U.S. silence [to Morsi’s ouster] proves that the U.S. has always been against political Islam, even when political Islam arises through democratic means,” said Mohamed El Sayad, 40, a Cairo father of three.
Sheik Abdel Khalea Fahmi, 33, struggling to be heard over buzzing military helicopters that protesters say were sent to intimidate pro-Morsi crowds, saw an even more devious U.S. conspiracy. Mindful of the rising anti-American sentiment, he said the United States pretended to embrace Morsi’s government as a way of discrediting him.
“It was part of the U.S. plot to support Morsi so that the people would turn against him,” Fahmi said.
Just a few miles away in Tahrir Square, anti-Morsi protesters insist the U.S. is on the ousted president’s side, just as Washington supported Mubarak. They have been holding up signs reading “Obama supports terrorism” and pictures of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson with an “X” mark.
Now many of the young Egyptians whom Obama tried to reach out to in his landmark 2009 speech here view the U.S. president as a hypocrite.
“America is using the Muslim Brotherhood to impose the kind of order they want to create a new Middle East, which would guarantee Israel’s security and U.S. interests,” said Ahmed Salam, 20, a law student and member of the Rebel movement, which organized the massive protest Sunday that helped bring down Morsi.
“The U.S. isn’t listening to the people,” he said, speaking from a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square.
Much of their anger has been focused on Patterson, ambassador since 2011. She infuriated anti-Morsi activists last month by saying she was “deeply skeptical” about calls to use street protests to unseat Morsi, adding that elections are a better route. She also explained U.S. support of Morsi by noting that he was the nation’s democratically elected leader.
After that, activists used a variety of foul language to describe Patterson and called for her to be kicked out of the country. Anti-Morsi protesters say such criticism is justified because the U.S. failed to speak out more aggressively when Morsi was accused of cracking down on political opponents, journalists and judges.
“It’s not only about elections,” said Mohammed Farahat, 27, an advertising account manager. “Hitler was elected too. It bothers me that the U.S. presents itself as a peacemaker, but then they supports a fascist regime like Morsi’s.”
Asked whether he was worried that the United States might cut off $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt, Farahat said his country could do fine without it, a statement that seemed to ignore Egypt’s deep economic troubles. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 70% of Egyptians were opposed to their country accepting further American assistance.
“I’m tired of being threatened with losing our aid,” he said. “How many times can they play that card?”