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08/07/2013 03:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 07, 2013

Egyptians To U.S.: Stay At Home And Keep Your Foreign Aid

CAIRO -- On the day after a routine press conference turned two U.S. senators into pariahs in the local media, ordinary Egyptians, who have been deeply divided over virtually every element of their country's politics, found a cause for accord: U.S. politicians have done enough.

"Those bastards," sneered Magdi Hossein, a political activist from Giza who has helped rally supporters of the military against the Muslim Brotherhood. "Who are they anyway? What power do they have in the Congress? They came here to play a game -- a game of politics back home in America, not for here."

Hossein was echoing sentiments expressed by his more powerful countrymen. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) found themselves on the receiving end of a surprising amount of official Egyptian vitriol late Tuesday night, and into Wednesday morning, after they announced that they considered the military's takeover of the government in early July to be a "coup."

The Obama administration has so far declined to used that term to describe the takeover -- in which the military, riding a wave of popular discontent and protests, removed President Mohammed Morsi from power -- because labeling the event a coup would jeopardize billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has remained in detention in a secret facility, and several other Brotherhood figures have been charged with crimes.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, a spokesman for the Egyptian president called the senators "clumsy" or "irresponsible," depending on the translation, while a leading newscaster said the two had delivered a "big insult to Egypt and its people," and the interim minister of investment took to Twitter to ask McCain, "Who gave you the right to poke your nose into Egypt's internal affairs?"

On the streets of downtown Cairo, around Tahrir Square, where the revolution that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak from power two-and-a-half years ago began, that sentiment was widespread on Wednesday afternoon, even if the details of McCain and Graham's remarks weren't always precisely known.

"I didn't see the press conference, but I heard about it," said Omar Enad, an 18-year-old student who opposes the Muslim Brotherhood's continued sit-ins, as he helped his mother buy food for Wednesday night's feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan. "They made fun of the Egyptian people, right? But the Egyptian people, we don't care about what they say -- it has nothing to do with us."

Mohamed Abdul Motallem, a supporter of Morsi who said he planned to pass through Tahrir and do some shopping before heading to one of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, agreed.

"I don't like the American aid, and I don't like the American interference," said Motallem, who noted that he also did not see McCain and Graham's press conference. "I am 100 percent sure that the aid is not for the Egyptian people or in their interests."

The U.S. aid in question is the approximately $1.5 billion, most of it in military funds, that goes every year to Egypt -- a sum that some in Washington, most prominently Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would like to see cut off. Pressed on the funding, many Egyptians said they didn't see any problem with eliminating it.

"We don't actually care one bit about the aid," said Hisham Mohamed, a travel agent who worked nearby, as he walked past a pair of military armored vehicles guarding one of the entrances to Tahrir. "We've been talking about this money since the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, but we're finished with it. We've started our own accounts, and if every patriotic Egyptian donates what they can -- one pound, a million pounds -- we won't have any problem."

American interests have taken a beating in Egypt in recent months. The U.S. ambassador to the country, Anne Patterson, was all but drummed out of town, after she became the unwelcome face of many Egyptians' distrust and fury at the perceived policies of the Obama administration. Last week, the administration announced that Patterson was going home to a top State Department job in Washington. Her reported successor, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, has already been subject to a #NoToRobertFord Twitter and Facebook campaign.

Meanwhile, shortly after Morsi was removed from power last month, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates offered $12 billion in aid to Egypt's struggling economy, a sum that makes America's annual $250 million in economic aid seem inconsequential by comparison.


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