Zakaria: Egypt's greatest threat - its military

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

The video above shows a strange cartoon from Egypt. It's of Uncle Sam looking sinister and mean, hunched over a door with a keyhole. The implication, I suppose, is that the U.S. is spying on Egyptians. Another cartoon shows him with a pistol and he's pointing it at an Egyptian man with a cannon. The caption in Arabic says "dignity". The point here is quite clear: Americans are robbing Egyptians of their dignity.

What in the world?

These cartoons were published recently in a state-run newspaper and they highlight a disturbing trend: Egypt's transitional government is trying to whip up anti-American fervor.

Its latest ploy is a high-publicity trial. Forty-three people, nearly half of them U.S. citizens, stand accused of illegally receiving foreign funds to promote democracy. The government claims they didn't have a license to do their work but in reality these people had filed their registration papers under the old regime of Hosni Mubarak. They were told their papers were in order.

It's a little rich for the Egyptian government - which receives $1.2 billion from the United States every year - to harass charities for getting funds from America. So what's going on?

In a recent column, the New York Times' Tom Friedman points out that the ongoing trial was the brainchild of an old Mubarak crony - Fayza Abul Naga, Egypt's minister of planning and international cooperation. Her strategy, Friedman says, is to unite Egyptians by "standing up to the foreigners."

She plays this game by taking advantage of a fractured Egyptian leadership. It seems she got the military on board by showing them how human rights workers from abroad are their most vocal critics. Rounding them up, the logic goes, would show how Egypt's protests are driven by external forces.

In fact, Egypt's uprising was entirely indigenous. There were no evil foreign forces at work. America was caught unaware, as were all foreign governments. The real problem now is that the Egypt's old regime is clinging on to power. People like Abul Naga and the power behind her - the military.

Egypt's last four presidents, including Hosni Mubarak, came from the armed forces. That group remains unwilling to cede control, even to the newly elected parliament. Many fear the army is now trying to shape a new constitution to its benefit.

Meanwhile the armed forces have huge economic interests and have been opposed to the economic reforms under Gamal Mubarak that took away their monopolies and privileges. Last June, it refused an International Monetary Fund loan for more than 3 billion dollars. But last week it had to cave in and accept that money. All this is occurring as its foreign reserves have plummeted from $36 billion before the revolt to merely $10 billion now. Foreign investment has almost entirely stopped; tourism has seen a 30% decline.

Now, think about the fears voiced in the Western media about post-revolution Egypt: It's all been about the rise of Islam. We keep hearing how the party that swept Egypt's elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, are a force to be feared. We are told stories of how Egypt will become a Sharia state and an enemy of the U.S.

But the real danger to Egyptian democracy is the group that has always been the danger to Egyptian democracy - the military. Until they actually cede power, the Egyptian revolution remains stillborn and the country remains a military dictatorship.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more What in the World? pieces, click here.


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