Why did the U.S. go to bat for Morsi?

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Mohamed Morsi holds a singular distinction.

While president of Egypt, he was the world's only democratically elected leader to motivate more than 20 million of his people, one-quarter of the population, to sign a petition calling for his ouster.


Millions of these people began showing up at angry, sometimes violent demonstrations in Cairo and other cities a week ago, the one-year anniversary of his rule. They're irate about Mr. Morsi's blatant leadership failures. Egypt is riven with enervating economic, political and social problems of the sort it has never experienced before. That prompted military leaders to warn Mr. Morsi on Monday that if he didn't find a solution within 48 hours, they would. He didn't, and they did, in what Mr. Morsi's supporters are calling a coup d'etat. The military has named an interim leader and announced plans for new elections.

So why has the United States been so doggedly supporting Mr. Morsi? U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson spent last week trying to convince several groups to stay out of the demonstrations.


For example, Egyptian papers reported that she asked the Coptic Christian pope to urge his flock not to participate — even though Mr. Morsi stood by watching as Islamic fundamentalists injured and killed hundreds of Copts. The pope politely told her he couldn't do that.

Washington has been standing up for Mr. Morsi because it's a knee-jerk State Department reaction. State's bureaucrats feel a need to support many leaders of important countries, no matter how incompetent and feckless they may be. During Egypt's 2011 uprising, the Obama administration stood by Hosni Mubarak until it was perfectly obvious he was about to fall.

This time, word of Ms. Patterson's foolish and pointless effort got out, and some protesters waved banners lambasting the U.S. One said: "Obama Supports Terrorism." On Egyptian TV, Mustafa Bakari, a former member of parliament, showed a photo of Ms. Patterson meeting the Muslim Brotherhood's leader, Mohammed Badie, and called Ms. Patterson "a member of" the Brotherhood's "sleeper cells."

Mr. Mubarak was a ruthless dictator, but in some ways Mr. Morsi was even worse. Last month, for example, he appointed a former member of a terrorist group as governor of Luxor — even though that same group once massacred scores of tourists in the same city. The outrage over the appointment was so loud that the tourism minister quit, and a few days later the new governor was forced to resign.

That's a PR fiasco. But the problems run much deeper. Mr. Morsi's policies (or lack of them) have so ravaged the economy that inflation is running at about 8.5 percent. Unemployment is nearly 15 percent — the highest in memory. Gas shortages have led to many-hour lines at gas stations. Daily electricity shortages are widespread, and the country is facing bread shortages everywhere. At the same time, Mr. Morsi was prosecuting many of his critics.

For all this and more, Mr. Morsi and his aides repeatedly blamed the news media and, as he recently put it, "remnants of the old regime."

All of that has driven public approval so low that it's comparable to Richard Nixon's at the height of the Watergate scandal. Mr. Morsi lost virtually everyone in the country except Muslim Brotherhood followers. Even Salafists, the state's Islamic extremists, gave up on him.

A new Zogby poll of 5,029 Egyptians nationwide shows that only 28 percent of Egyptians support Morsi. He "has virtually no support among Egyptians not affiliated with the president's party," the poll said.


Given that, it's especially confounding that the U.S. has been standing up for him.

I wonder if the State Department is aware that Mr. Morsi was also a 9/11 denier, one who showed his contempt for the U.S. by charging that the September 2001 attacks were a U.S. government plot intended to justify American aggression against the Islamic world.

In a Brookings Institution interview three years ago, Mr. Morsi said: "When you come and tell me that plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you're insulting us. How did the plane cut through steel like this? Something must have happened from the inside."

My advice to Ambassador Patterson: Just stay out of it. Egyptians have every right to protest, just like anyone else. Criticizing them is hypocritical. You're in your early 60s, so you certainly remember the massive demonstrations in Washington against Nixon and the Vietnam War.

Don't Egyptians have the same right?

Joel Brinkley is the Hearst professional in residence at Stanford University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former correspondent for The New York Times.