The American Government has a history of acting out of ignorance. In Egypt, across the Middle East and throughout southern Asia, the United States, as part of its larger struggle with the Soviet Union, spent almost fifty years on a quest to crush all the local Communist party organizations. It largely succeeded. The Obama Administration now presumably wishes that those secular, organized and largely middle-class organizations had not been shattered. They represented amazing experiments in many countries because they successfully cut across tribal, religious and cultural boundaries, and promoted gender-equality. Despite the failure of their economic programs and their repressive features, many of their attempted social changes were truly revolutionary. The Americans, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on vast intelligence services at the CIA and within the Departments of State and Defense, were oblivious to the consequences of destroying these local Communist organizations.
The local Communist parties were formed largely by those who had legitimate grievances against Western-supported dictators who ruled their countries. When those parties were exterminated, their grievances remained and their causes were adopted by a mix of violent and nonviolent Islamic organizations.
It is too early to declare the Cold War over and too early to declare the United States the victor. To some degree the Cold War is still being fought as the United States must face the consequences of its decades-long effort to destabilize dozens of developing nations.
The Communist Party of Egypt was founded in 1921. It was one of many Marxist organizations that flourished in Egypt. One such group, formed in 1948, was the Egyptian Communist Organization. Its leadership was composed almost entirely of Jewish (anti-Zionist) communists. After the 1952, revolution, which toppled the Egyptian monarchy, Marxist groups were outlawed and imprisoned under the rationale that they were a threat to Arab nationalism. A new wave of arrests began in 1971, after Anwar el-Sadat expelled his Soviet advisors at the urging of the United States. That repression continued under American ally Hosni Mubarak, who exercised such powers through his security apparatus and through the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Throughout this period, foreign interference compounded Egypt’s problems. In 1954, Israeli intelligence launched Operation Susannah. Its goal was to assemble a terror squad within Egypt called Unit 131 which would attack Western targets. Those attacks would then be blamed on Egyptian communists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unit 131 (which may still exist) carried out several bombings, including the July 14, 1954, attack on the U.S. Information Agency libraries in Cairo and Alexandria. The terror campaign was eventually exposed causing Israeli Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon to resign. The scandal became known as the “Lavon Affair.”
While the above is all history, the concern for the future is that the United States does not appear to have learned any lessons. In Egypt and elsewhere the American Government has reattached its blinders and is once again obsessively focused on groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than focusing on the underlying problems. American television is awash with pseudo-experts issuing dire and hysterical warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt. None of that is helpful.
President Obama should think twice before creating more enemies for the United States. It may be that the “radical” Muslim Brotherhood (it is not clear what makes it radical), is in reality more moderate and reasonable than what might come after it, were it to be decimated like the Communist Party of Egypt.
The crisis in Egypt seems to have taken the Obama Administration by surprise, which is incredible as it has more than 1000 diplomats, support personnel and dependants at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, presumably with a large CIA station. Part of the problem is that U.S. diplomats tend to live in protective “bubbles,” with limited access to the local population. These measures are counter-productive because the main purpose for a foreign mission is to interact with the citizens of the host-nation. Some risks are inherent in the job if it is to be competently performed. The current crisis is one of a seemingly endless series of diplomatic and intelligence failures regarding which no one will be held responsible, so the scandals will continue.
The U.S. Government should not lecture the Government of Egypt about reforms unless it is willing to implement its own. It would require an entire book to detail the reforms that are needed within the near comatose Senior Foreign Service and Senior Intelligence Service. President Obama should review the performance of the CIA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS was out in front of most of the progressive liberation movements of its time. Its operatives lived alongside the people and were well received by them. Much of the conflict of the past half century might have been avoided if the U.S. Government had listened to its expert dissidents such as the OSS’s Bill Donovan, the State Department’s John S. Service, and the Pentagon’s Edward Landsdale and John Paul Vann. It needs to start listening now.