Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Goodbye Patterson

Twice in just over two years, US ambassadors in Egypt have been on the wrong side of history, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalabi

Al-Ahram Weekly

The job of an ambassador is to implement the foreign policy drawn up by decision makers at home. But this doesn’t mean that he or she does not contribute to policymaking by offering on-site assessments of the situation. The mark of a good ambassador is to be able to assess the conditions in his or her country of residence, especially when that country is undergoing turbulence or change.

Historians often recall the fact that during World War II, the ambassadors of the warring countries, especially Britain and Germany, made terrible assessments. And their errors of judgement spelled catastrophe for Europe and the entire world.

In Egypt’s case, I would like to discuss the performance of two American ambassadors. One is Margaret Scobey, who was in Cairo during the last years of the Mubarak regime and thus witnessed the rise of protest movements and the accumulation of political discontent. And she must have been aware of Al-Baradei’s accurate prediction that if one million people take to the streets, the regime will end.

Despite that, Scobey kept insisting that the Mubarak regime was stable. In the first days of the 25 January Revolution, the US ambassador told her superiors in Washington that the regime was capable of weathering the storm, an assessment that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated at the time.

Instead of abating as Scobey expected, the revolution picked up pace. Eventually, the US administration had to adjust its initial position, and President Obama called on Mubarak to step down. Scobey was then removed from her post and replaced with Anne Patterson, the second US ambassador I wish to discuss here.

Patterson had served earlier in countries experiencing political disturbances, including Pakistan. And as she watched the 30 June Revolution unfold, she imagined that Egypt was another Pakistan. She assumed that the rise of the Islamists was unstoppable and that her main job was to help the Islamists find a middle ground, while encouraging them to forge links with American interests — including the promotion of Israel’s security.

Patterson held talks with Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the supreme guide and his deputy, Khairat Al-Shater, ahead of the 30 June Revolution. She also met representatives of liberal groups, and basically advised them to quit supporting the 30 June Revolution.

Following a meeting with Al-Shater, the US diplomat made statements that were reassuring to the Muslim Brotherhood and dismissive of the 30 June Revolution.

Her remarks not only made the opposition turn against her, but shocked the entire nation, especially the millions who stood firmly behind the Tamarod campaign.

In hindsight, it is clear that Patterson failed to appreciate the magnitude of the youth-led popular opposition to Muslim Brotherhood rule. Also, she underestimated the Egyptian army — apparently oblivious to the fact that this army, in many instances in the past, stood firmly by the people.

Just as Scobey left her post in Cairo after the 25 January Revolution, Anne Patterson awaits the same fate. One can only hope that the next US ambassador will be more astute and sensitive to the nation’s mood.


The writer is managing director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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