Egypt's American-controlled Pharaoh

Many in Egypt are saying that without the green light from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they wouldn't have dared to move toward autocracy. From the American perspective, dictatorship seems to be preferable to the secular, democratic opposition threatening U.S. interests.

Morsi supporters rally in Cairo.
AP

Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman joined in heaping praise on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Like President Shimon Peres and U.S. President Barack Obama, Lieberman was thrilled by Morsi's pragmatism and his generosity in the cease-fire negotiations between Hamas and Israel - to the point where Israel, according to Peres, met Morsi partway while Hamas resisted, at least at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Less than 24 hours after receiving this acclaim, Morsi announced his decision to grant himself sweeping new powers, which ignited the fire of protest in his country. Egyptians are asking whether Morsi's power grab just happened to coincide with his role as Mideast mediator or whether he took action with the blessing of Washington, in exchange for his role in the cease-fire. Egyptians say Morsi has agreed to a greater American presence in Sinai and additional security cooperation with Israel.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently warned Obama not to sell Egyptian democracy for quiet on the Israel-Gaza border. Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa has publicly tied Morsi's decision to U.S. backing. He wrote that the Americans are telling Morsi: "Be a dictator as you see fit, as long as you're serving us better than Hosni Mubarak and protecting the Israeli interest and abandoning the Palestinian issue... Take Egypt, and Gaza too, as a bonus."

At the moment the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is Washington's newest ally. Many in Egypt are saying that without the green light from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they wouldn't have dared to move toward autocracy. From the American perspective, dictatorship seems to be preferable to the secular, democratic opposition threatening U.S. interests.

The ugly history of Americans in the region, particularly their unqualified support of unenlightened regimes - from the Mubarak government to Saudi rule - show that America's allies in the Arab world cannot be democratic. That's because the Americans not only have an interest in Arab oil but also see themselves as being compelled to support Israel, while Israel sees itself as compelled to occupy an entire nation; the Arabs, on the other hand, really are compelled to oppose Israeli policy. And within this logic, anyone seeking American affection must first liberate his people, by force, from love for the Palestinians. And therein lies the Gordian knot that generations have been struggling to untie.

All indications are that Morsi's power grab is nothing but a passing cloud in Egypt's summer sky. Egypt is now rising up against its American-controlled pharaoh. Residents of every city and every village are coming out against Morsi. The entire who's who of Egypt is standing up to dictatorship. Muslim Brotherhood offices have been torched in Alexandria and elsewhere. The state-run television station has reported that an imam's sermon at a mosque sparked a stormy protest against the Muslim Brotherhood. It's not just secular Egyptians who are demonstrating; religious Muslims know that some people - namely, the Muslim Brotherhood - are just using religion to achieve their own personal goals.

And here, in a Middle Eastern country, people prefer not to watch Arab television stations to see what's going on beyond the bubble in which they are intentionally holing up. Every child here hears the slightest squeak that comes from far-away America. But people don't hear firsthand what's going on with their own neighbors. Learn your neighbor's language, but first of all learn to love him - and you'll get to know a lively world of intellectual debate spiced by the collective wisdom of a 7,000-year-old civilization.