US-Egyptian relations on the rocks. El-Sisi wouldn’t accept Obama’s phone call
When the clashes between Egyptian security forces and pro-Morsi protesters were at their peak in Cairo Wednesday, Aug. 14 – 525 dead and 3,700 wounded to date – President Barack Obama put in a call to Egypt’s strongman, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report.
The US president wanted to give the general a dressing-down much on the lines of the call he made to former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 at the high point of the Arab Spring Tahrir Sq demonstrations against his rule, namely: Stop repressing the protesters and firing live ammunition. Step down!
When Mubarak asked for a three or four days’ grace to break up the massed rally, Obama shot back that he has to quit NOW!
And indeed, on Feb. 11, the army announced the president’s resignation.
Realizing what was coming, Gen. El-Sissi decided not to accept President Obama’s call, our sources report. The Egyptian officials who received it informed the US president politely that the right person for him to address was Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour and they would be glad to transfer the call to him. The White House callers declined.
This anecdote shows that the military strongman is not only determined to avoid the pitfalls which brought Mubarak down but is equally determined to keep the US administration from interfering in his plans for driving the Muslim Brotherhood out of Egyptian politics.
Diplomatic condemnation of those plans is building up in Western capitals.
Wednesday night, the Obama White House issued a statement strongly condemning “the use of violence against protesters in Egypt” and the state of emergency. Egyptian ambassadors in Paris, London and Berlin received denunciations and expressions of concern from their host governments, and Turkey demanded a UN Security Council emergency session on the situation in Egypt.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that harsh international condemnation of Gen. El-Sissi’s crackdown will do more harm than good. The backlash will come in three forms:
1. The Muslim Brotherhood will be encouraged to pursue increasingly extreme measures to fight the Egyptian army in the expectation of international applause.
2. The generals will be encouraged to escalate their steps for repressing the Brotherhood.
3. The Saudis and the Gulf Emirates will redouble their support for the Egyptian general and his campaign against the Brotherhood. This will widen the rift between those Arab rulers and the Obama administration.
Our intelligence sources also disclose that, while President Obama was trying to get through to Gen. El-Sissi, the general was on the phone with Prince Bandar, Director of Saudi Intelligence.
On July 31, Bandar arrived in Moscow and was immediately received by President Vladimir Putin for a conversation that lasted four hours. The Saudi prince next received an invitation to visit Washington at his earliest convenience and meet with President Obama.
Bandar has still not responded to that invitation.
Clearly, the US president’s problem with the Egyptian situation is a lot more complicated than pulling the army off the Muslim Brotherhood’s backs. He needs to somehow snap the strategic alliance unfolding between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the rapport between the Egyptian general and the Saudi prince.