On Black and White & Many Shades of Gray

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus


We have watched too many westerns. Everywhere we look for white or black hats: Mr. Spocks or Khan Noonien Singhs; Gandalfs or Saurons. History is not so colored. It is a spectrum of grays.

When the “Arab Spring” came to Egypt, many of us—including me, including the President—greeted it. We were happy to see the old crook and tyrant Mubarak get his comeuppance. But then Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected Egypt’s president in a free, democratic election. In the first round Morsi got 25 percent of the vote, Shafik 24 percent, Sabahi 21 percent, Abdel Fotouh 18 percent, and Moussa 11 percent; in the second, Morsi had 51.7 percent versus 48.3 percent for Shafik. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party, prior to the Arab Spring, had been forbidden to organize politically since 1954 and had an anti-Jewish history. Obviously, neither the United States nor Israel wanted him. We wanted and supported someone like Omar Suleiman, the CIA’s point man for Egyptian torture after 9/11.

It wasn’t long accordingly before Mohammed Morsi’s and the new Egypt’s faults began to appear in Western media. Coptic Christians were under assault; the economy was in shambles; the constitution—boycotted by liberals and Coptic Christians—affirmed Islamic law and seemed to suggest state-controlled arts. It placed heavy family duties on women, gave extraordinary powers to the president, and set a rush date for final approval. There was plenty to be nervous about. Yet, after his fall, on July 9, 2014, Mr. Morsi was called by the Washington Post the one man who could have made peace (at least between Israel and the Palestinians) because he loosened restrictions on Gaza and seemed to mediate even-handedly between Israel and Hamas. Now deposed, he is on trial for having conspired with Hamas to have them commit terrorist acts in Egypt—a trial generally regarded as a show.

Since Morsi had only a 25-percent plurality in the first election and a slim majority in the second, since most of the Egyptian army (trained in the U.S. and answering its beck and call) had U.S. loyalties, it was not hard to destabilize Egypt and get rid of a potential peacemaker. Didn’t even cost much.

An in-depth reporting group at the University of California at Berkeley has established that the U.S. and U.S. surrogates—especially the “U.S. Democratic Assistance Program”—poured money into Egypt through front groups such as the “National Endowment for Democracy.” The money, in turn, was funneled to anti-Morsi agitators like former police colonel Omar Afifi Soliman and his 83,000 followers, who used social media and YouTube to encourage violent overthrow of the government. Soliman took personal credit for the December 2012 assault on the presidential palace with guns and Molotov cocktails. The U.S. funded other anti-Morsi groups as well: the Salvation Front, the Egyptian Democratic Academy, and the Hand-in-Hand for Egypt Associates (which funded opposition from Egypt’s Christians and received $13 million). The Berkeley report says that, contrary to American law, these monies funded and supported violent protests against Morsi and the planning of violent activities to depose him.

In a recently founded democracy where the vote was about even and the democratic process fragile, our government paid to kill the little extant spark of democracy and replaced Morsi with the army’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi amid unbelievable human rights abuses. The Muslim Brotherhood is now gone—utterly suppressed.

Al-Sissi, favorable to Israel (one critic even accused him of being a Jew), immediately began efforts to squeeze Hamas in Gaza just as the Palestinian group was withdrawing its backing from Assad’s Syrian government to support the rebels (now ISIS)—thereby destroying its support from both Syria and Iran.

To further tighten the vise on Hamas, the U.S. brought Israel and the new Egypt together. But neither nation needed any additional prodding. Indeed, they went well beyond the White House’s expectations. Al–Sissi ramped up the Gaza blockade, and well-placed sources in Egypt told Reuters that Egypt would soon topple Hamas. Hamas was desperate on all fronts. The Wall Street Journal, in fact, blames the war between Israel and Hamas on this ‘squeeze play’ by the Egyptians and Israelis that left Hamas with nothing to lose.

Once again, our arbitrary picking of ‘white hats,’ our rhetoric of democracy (but not our respect for it) has destroyed an opportunity for peace. As Haaretz, Israel’s opposition newspaper writes:

The sad ironic tragedy is that Hamas could have been “contained” without a single shot being fired. Now, or in 2012, 2008/9 and 2006. Yes, I find Hamas’ extremist ideology, its past of suicide bombings abhorrent, and, like Israel’s militarism, its swift resorting to violence despite its proven futility has been extremely costly. However… Hamas not only dropped its calls for the destruction of Israel from its election manifesto [but] indicated its willingness to accept a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders. Before the latest conflict, Hamas even went so far as to cede political control to the Palestinian Authority and a government of technocrats in the desperate hope that this would lead to the lifting of the siege.

Despite all these clear overtures, Israel’s extremist, jingoistic government… has refused to play ball and finally find a way to coexist... If Israel and Egypt fail to find a way to live nonviolently with Hamas, history will continue to repeat itself, each time more tragically than the preceding time. And Gaza will become not only the graveyard of innocent civilians, but also the burial ground for the prospects for peace for generations to come.

From the mistaken narrative that we will work only with designated ‘white hats’ against ‘black hats,’ that rhetoric of democracy applies only to those governments we can control, we foment or enable war after war—in Iran, South America, Africa, and now in Israel-Egypt-Gaza. Such a policy buries any prospect for peace, and the hypocrisy of it all loses us many a war.

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