Contrasting Reactions to Egypt, Syria

Israel’s preferences for Egypt’s military regime and against Syria’s authoritarian one continue to shape U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. In Egypt, President Obama has accepted a coup that ousted an elected government, while in Syria, he threatens war, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar observes.

By Paul R. Pillar

While President Obama expends political capital trying to win backing for a military endeavor that most Americans oppose and that received scant support at the G-20 summit meeting, upheaval in the Middle East is about to enter a new phase no matter what happens in Syria.

We are probably seeing the beginning of a new wave of terrorism in Egypt. Although it would be a mistake to extract too many conclusions from a single incident, a powerful bomb, for which no one claimed responsibility, in Cairo last Thursday that was aimed at a convoy carrying the Egyptian interior minister may mark the start of such a wave. Two days later Egyptian military engineers defused a bomb placed on a railroad line near the Suez Canal.

A surge in terrorism in Egypt was made all but inevitable by events there of the last few months. The regime led by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has excluded from political participation a major stream of sentiment in the Egyptian body politic, as represented in particular by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Sisi regime has exhibited brutality by killing hundreds in the process of quashing otherwise peaceful protests. The combination of an absence of peaceful channels and anger over the severe and bloody methods of the regime is just the sort of recipe that inspires a move to terrorist violence.

It is not the Brotherhood, which condemned Thursday’s bombing, that will be making that move. It will be small extremist groups and cells, which probably are only now gelling and will be led by organizers who point to Egypt’s history over the past year as demonstrating that the Brotherhood’s commitment to peaceful political competition is foolish and ineffective.

Some individual members of the Brotherhood will leave the organization to join the extremist groups. The incarceration of most of the Brotherhood’s senior leadership will make it hard for those leaders to persuade the wayward individuals not to make the turn to violent extremism.

A new terrorist campaign in Egypt will creep up on the sensibilities of U.S. policy-makers; it will not suddenly become a preoccupation as Syria is now. But it is interesting to compare in a couple of respects the U.S. postures toward recent events in Egypt and in Syria.

Where the principal adversaries of a head-cracking regime have been peaceful political contestants (who even had won a fair election), the U.S. response was to do essentially nothing. Where much of the principal opposition to the regime has consisted of violent extremists and terrorists, the proposed U.S. response is to weigh in with military force on the side of the opposition.

Legally, where U.S. law requires a suspension of aid after a military coup, the administration response has been to flout the law. Where international law prohibits the use of military force except in self-defense or with the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, the proposed response is again to flout the law.

About the only thread of consistency here, besides the illegality, is that the U.S. postures toward both Egypt and Syria have been the ones preferred by the foreign government that for many years has been the dominant influence in shaping so much of U.S. policy in the Middle East. That may make the politics of what we are seeing easier to understand. But from any other perspective what we are seeing is an embarrassing and destructive inconsistency.

Destructive, partly because it sends the message that just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, only with a resort to extremist violence does it seem that one has a chance to get attention and even support. Maybe that is one of the thoughts in the minds of those ginning up the new terrorist campaign in Egypt.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

8 comments for “Contrasting Reactions to Egypt, Syria

  1. Rhys
    September 14, 2013 at 00:46

    Why were the UN weapons inspectors in Syria in the first place???
    To investigate previous use of weapons of chemical weapons! What happened to that investigation???

  2. Rhys
    September 14, 2013 at 00:09

    I say YES!!! Maybe
    exicute is more than we can hope for:)
    How about a Truth Comission to bring al those who have conducted missions iin Our Names that have resulted in death and destruction of people that we have nothing against and their suffering!!! Time for those who have commuted Atrocities in the Name of the United States of America to be accounted for!

    September 10, 2013 at 16:38

    War in USA has be gone the last slave iz free . It not in ptahs hands it in your rapping president eye never nu until now there iz no black USA niggas have lost it all. Putin I will be in Canada . Brazil Mexico r y’all 4 your nu country I am

  4. Ptah
    September 10, 2013 at 16:35

    War in USA has be gone the last slave iz free . It not in ptahs hands it in your rapping president eye never nu until now there iz no black USA niggas have lost it all. Putin I will be in Canada . Brazil Mexico r y’all 4 your nu country I am

  5. Ptah
    September 10, 2013 at 16:26

    Israel has no oil ,holly oil iz always good tho. 4 all u takers playing this dangerous game from the falls in Duluth , to Bentley ct.eye hope u win for what u have done eye know karma does not exist but u will have your day in life. O u forgot u killed U.3

  6. scott
    September 10, 2013 at 10:53

    Egypt made a huge mistake when they allowed the Muslim brotherhood to be a part of their political process in the first place. The coop to oust Morsi was an evil necessity to rid Egypt of the threat of Shari law and the Koran as the all and all rule of law. Morsi was a phony. He totally did a 180 on his campaign promises. True Islam which lives and dies by the sword is the scourge of the world and must be destroyed.
    In the case of the USA’s corrupt Middle East politics its all coming back to haunt us. We have manipulated the various Islamic factions to war against each other in order to control our oil and gas interests; Turkey/Israel(AIPAC) vs. Iran/Iraq/Syria and to grease the wheels of the military Industrial Complex. This whole chemical weapons fiasco is a smoke screen lie to gain public support for attacking Syria. Unfortunately Obomber our dictator will attack Syria regardless of what congress votes or the anti-war out cry of the public.

    • Masud Awan
      September 10, 2013 at 20:12

      ‘True Islam which lives and dies by the sword is the scourge of the world and must be destroyed.’

      yeh, true Capitalism, true Communism and true Zionism instead are wonderful systems. world is a wonderful place to live in under these systems as we experienced in the recent past and experiencing currently.

      • Revo
        September 11, 2013 at 16:46

        Not only Islam, every religion, specially the idol worshiping Christianity throughout history has annihilated humanity in the name of its god and now they have covered it in the cloak of peace and love.
        Getting rid of religion, specially these three so-called monotheist ones–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–would be half way toward humanity to live in peace and brotherhood.

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