The entirely unjustified and outrageous embassy attacks --on 11th anniversary of 9/11 no less -- underscore an alarming shift in public opinion that is clear, quantifiable, and growing exponentially within the Arab Street since the onset of the Arab Spring uprisings last year.
In the immediate aftermath of the assault on the American Embassy in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood -- whose government appears to have made distancing itself from the United States an integral component of its “new page” in foreign policy -- failed to condemn the assaults.
Instead, he demanded that the Egyptian Embassy in Washington take “all legal measures” against the team behind the controversial film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad-- seeking in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to “justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Islamist Freedom and Justice Party denounced the film as a “racist crime,” and Egyptian Islamist Mohammed Zawahiri, leader of the newly established Egyptian Salafist Jihadi Movement and brother of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called on his supporters to protest the film outside the embassy Wednesday.
Tuesday’s events certainly bear out previously expressed concerns about what could happen in Egypt now that it has fallen the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last summer, my polling firm, Douglas E. Schoen, LLC. conducted an Egypt Public Opinion Poll on behalf of Newsweek/The Daily Beast, encompassing 1,008 randomly selected Egyptian adults from 19 Egyptian governorates. Interviews were conducted between June 24 – July 4, 2011 by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC and Thawrastats ( www.thawrastats.org).
What we found was that the political climate in Egypt was moving in a new direction that is inimical to American and allied interests -- notwithstanding the billions of dollars in aid that the United States has and continues to provide.
An overwhelming 80% of Egyptians surveyed said the United States does not care about Egypt’s interests, while two-thirds 66% said that the United States has not responded to the political situation in a way that was in the best interest of Egyptian people.
Only one-quarter of Egyptians surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of Americans while 58% said they had an unfavorable opinion, and a majority (56%) said that Egypt should not have a partnership relationship with America, compared to just 36% who said it should. Meanwhile, a plurality said that Egypt should have a partnership relationship with Iran (48%-43%).
Moreover, Egyptians surveyed expressed profound skepticism of any information coming from the US government or media as well as deep-seated suspicion and distrust of both United States and Israel.
A striking majority (70%) of Egyptians said that the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords with Egypt should be amended or repealed. And there was deep-seated skepticism about whether Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were behind the 9/11 attacks. One-third (34%) of Egyptians believed that either the United States or Israel were behind the 9/11 attacks – with 19% of respondents saying that Israel was involved and 15% saying that the U.S. was behind the attacks.
The anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment within the Egyptian population is clear and quantifiable. Given these numbers, it is almost certain that Egypt’s foreign policy will be even more hostile and aggressive towards the United States and Israel going forward.
And indeed, the hundreds of protesters who descended on the US embassy in Cairo, replacing the American flag on the flagpole with a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet" and chanting “We are all Usama," are the face of a new, post-Mubarak Egypt, in which the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis have had a great opportunity to establish control of the Egyptian constitution and eventually Egyptian foreign policy.
What then must President Obama and his administration do?
As we continue to watch this situation unfold with care, the president must tell Egypt in no uncertain terms that unless they condemn the Embassy attacks, there will be no more loans or financial aid, and they must go after the perpetrators of murder in Libya.
And now more than ever, it is imperative that the president reemphasize his commitment to the safety and security of America’s one true ally in the Middle East, and meet with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu while he is in the country for the United Nations General Assembly session in New York on Sept. 27th and 28th.
What is clear is that additional commitments by the US to aid Egypt are far from enough to sway the view and future of the country in our favor.
Arielle Alter Confino contributed to this commentary.