US Senator John McCain committed what was a mistake both for Egypt and for himself when he thrust himself and thrust the current delicate phase of Egypt's transitional process into the midst of confusion, missteps, and contradictions. His sharp criticism of US President Barack Obama for failing to outline a clear and comprehensive vision on Syria can today be applied to him, as a result of his lack of visionary spirit and sensitivity to the events in Egypt, and to the repercussions of such shortcomings on Egypt and on the United States. John McCain did not go to Cairo, along with Senator Lindsey Graham, in order to polish his image or for some narcissistic need he might have had. He is a man with profound knowledge of foreign policy issues, and is known for his boldness in being frank with others and in his criticism. The mistake he made is that he did not keep pace with the Egyptian awakening in its second uprising, and failed to thoroughly analyze the effects of his statements and stances on Egypt's national security. McCain put the prestige of the Egyptian army in jeopardy, although he is known to burst out in anger if someone ever touches upon the reputation of the US armed forces. He has harmed the morale of the Egyptian interim government without paying heed to the danger of interfering in a delicate process of negotiations between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, meant to avert bloodshed. He used a language which he understood and knew perfectly well would involve warning and threatening the interim government, the army, and the country, when he used the word "coup," a term that would dictate cutting off annual US aid to Egypt, which amounts to 1.3 billion dollars. Worst of all, John McCain allowed himself to place Egypt on a course of talking about a bloodbath, while it should have been his duty to avoid such harmful predictions and instead focus exclusively on the necessity of not allowing Egypt to slip into chaos and instability. John McCain has harmed Egypt at the core, and he must set things right, reconsider, admit to his mistakes, and work sincerely to correct them, because Egypt cannot bear an outbreak of American stumbling that would be unleashed upon Egypt and at its expense.
The first thing Senator McCain should do is stop making light of the reactions criticizing him for what he did during his visit there, where the interim government had welcomed him and opened every door for him to meet with whomever he wished however he wished -including with deposed President Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Indeed, the Egyptian presidency complained of "foreign pressure [that] has exceeded international norms," and the Tamarod movement turned down McCain's invitation to a meeting; Tamarod's spokesperson said, "We are fed up with the numerous foreign officials coming to Egypt and we call on the international community to give the Egyptian people space to determine their fate and choices." The National Salvation Front and the June 30 Front - who, together with the Tamarod movement, represent civilian, and not military, political groups - issued a statement in which they rejected any "political deal between the Egyptian state and the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists," asserting that "the Egyptian people stand side-by-side with the Egyptian authorities and security services in the face of terrorism and extremism."
The stance taken by the Egyptian presidency that "Egypt is capable of protecting the revolution and the state" came after McCain and Graham adopted stances that really did exceed international norms during their press conference. McCain said that deposing Morsi had been a "coup," when he knew perfectly well that describing what had happened as a "coup" is a demand made, or in fact a campaign organized, by the Muslim Brotherhood, starting from its protest in Rabia Al-Adawiyya Square, and reaching up to the declaration made by Al-Qaeda leader and Egyptian national Ayman Al-Zawahiri that what had happened had been a "coup" against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
McCain's stance came not just in support of one side of the conflict, but also to challenge what the Obama administration had worked on formulating very carefully, reaching up to Secretary of State John Kerry's declaration that what the Egyptian army had done was to save Egypt, rather than a military coup. McCain also undermined what William Burns had been doing at the same time, their visits to Cairo having coincided - Burns had been the official envoy of the US Department of State in a mission aimed at defusing the crisis, not inflaming it further.
It is strange how McCain and Graham came to the conclusion that they had the right to "urge the release of political prisoners" immediately because "it is impossible to talk with somebody who's in jail," without closely examining the charges leveled at those in jail, based on their resorting to violence and killing during protests.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with John McCain and Lindsey Graham, must pause a little bit to consider their demand for the release of Morsi, who stands accused on charges very similar to those that had been leveled at the other deposed president, Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, they had remained silent about Mubarak's arrest during the first revolution, and no one had dared demand his release. Yet here they are now, loudly demanding Morsi's release during the second revolution, although the charges are quite similar.
Demanding the release of prisoners and speaking the language of "if you think you're going to restore legitimacy through violence, that is the worst possible act you could take (...) [and it] will only marginalize [the Muslim Brotherhood] throughout the world," as Graham said, in addition to describing what happened as a "coup," are stances that side with the Muslim Brotherhood. If that had been McCain and Graham's goal, then they should be congratulated for having achieved it.
What one should pay heed to is the fact that such stances can sometimes be naïve, but also very dangerous upon repetition. Indeed, they encourage obstinacy within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and raise the morale of Brotherhood protesters who block roads and threaten national security. McCain and Graham have contributed - most likely inadvertently rather than purposely - to mobilizing the Muslim Brotherhood for the coming confrontation, when the interim government in Egypt carries out its pledge of dispersing the protest and putting an end to it.
It would have been more useful for them both to listen carefully to what the vice president for foreign affairs Mohamed ElBaradei and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have told them. ElBaradei said that he had asserted to them that "[Egypt's] priorities [were] to secure citizens and protect their lives, their possessions and to preserve security and law, (...) while rejecting violence and bloodshed, and moving forward to achieve comprehensive political reconciliation, and implement the roadmap to outline the prospects for a democratic future for Egypt."
Allowing all mediators to meet with Morsi and other leaders was a sincere example of the interim government's desire to convince Muslim Brotherhood leaders to stop inciting, provoking, blocking roads, protesting non-peacefully, threatening, and forcing security services to make use of force.
Before these mediations and visits, Muslim Brotherhood leaders had implicitly reached the conclusion that Morsi would not be reinstated as president, and that it was time to think of a "Plan B" instead of the strategy of implicating the army or wagering on being rescued by the Americans and Europeans. Today, it seems that McCain and Graham's visit has given the Brotherhood an additional dose for obstinacy and intimidation, with it interpreting the message of the visit as representing the real stances of the United States.
The visit has therefore also harmed American interests. And once again, it is highly unlikely that this had been what McCain and Graham had in mind. They certainly committed mistakes, but they had not intended to cause harm. They had not intended to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to use women and children as shields in the front rows of its protest, so that they may be the recipients of the response of security forces to provocation and incitement.
Another kind of harm is the effect the visit has had in terms of weakening the position of the military institution. Indeed, the army is very sensitive about its image among the people and in the media, and seeks to appear as an army of stability, solemnity, calm, non-interference, and concern for the rights of all Egyptians. The visit has led to striking a blow against the army and its prestige, and this in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Egyptians represents an absolutely unacceptable insult. The offense is therefore multiplied, because it insults both the army and the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people.
Equally harmful is the fact that mediation has failed and a valuable opportunity has been wasted to influence the stance of the Muslim Brotherhood, so that it may end its protest and join the political process offered it. As a result, the army finds itself with no choice but to carry out its pledge to disperse the protest. The decision has been for this to take place gradually, through all known non-violent means to disperse protests, so as to prevent a clash, and through a process of exhausting protesting forces. But now the danger of confrontation has become much greater, as a result of the Muslim Brotherhood's interpretation of McCain and Graham's message, making it biased in its favor. This has most likely been the outcome of mediations and also of contacts with the deposed President and other jailed leaders.
Yet the greatest injury is the one being inflicted by the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt by driving the army to make use of force in the face of organized violence. The most important challenge for security forces is therefore to maintain their composure and not allow themselves to be dragged into violence and police repression, and to instead maintain their patience while they carry out their orders to disperse the protest gradually and with the greatest capacity for tolerating all methods of provocation.
As for Western and Arab delegations to Egypt, aimed at mediating between the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood, they are doing more harm than good, as they bring their own confusion and their own agendas to Egypt. They should first make the distinction between civil protests and security protests - protests that make use of women and children to smear the reputation of state security forces charged with keeping the peace. These delegations should speak frankly with the Muslim Brotherhood, and tell its leaders quite simply that there is no way for Morsi to be reinstated as President or for those in jail for committing crimes against civilians to be released, that the time has come to admit to the historical mistakes committed by the Brotherhood in power when it took unilateral control and excluded others, and that it is in their interest now to join the political process into which they are being welcomed within the framework of the roadmap.
Anything apart from that would only be adding fuel to the fire of obstinacy and confrontation. Indeed, the army cannot promise not to storm the protest if it is forced to. And the army cannot remain idle vis-à-vis the protest strategy either, wasting the momentum of this important window to impose its authority to keep the peace. Of course, every Egyptian has the right to protest peacefully, but the protest in Rabiya Al-Adawiyya is only an arena of incitement, not one of partnership in building the future of Egypt under a unifying democratic system that does not stop at and become reduced to the elections alone - as was the case with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Returning to McCain once again, as he is an exceptional man with extraordinary qualities and with leading and ethical stances, he must reconsider and correct his mistakes. Indeed, McCain has contributed to raising the ceiling of the Muslim Brotherhood's conditions for negotiations, and his actions have been detrimental to the notion of dialogue and concession. He has placed the spotlight on the army alone, forcing it to be more decisive and placing it at the forefront in the media, while it had sought to move quietly and with the utmost calm. He has brought American confusion to the Egyptian scene. He has done in Egypt precisely what he had criticized his president for doing in Syria, as they have both chased after events without vision, depth, leadership, or a sound interpretation of the pulse of the people in Syria or in Egypt. If only they would correct their course.