The State Department is trying hard to downplay the significance of anti-American protests during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's weekend visit to Egypt. A day after Clinton met with the country's new president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, angry crowds chanted "Monica, Monica" as Clinton's motorcade passed — a reference to Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Some of the protesters hurled tomatoes and shoes. One State Department official cautioned that it's "easy to over-read a small group of pretty energetic protesters" in a country of 90 million people. Was Clinton's prickly reception something for the U.S. to worry about? Here, three theories on what it all means:
1. Egyptians are worried about Washington's meddling
"The Egyptians who vented their rage during Mrs. Clinton's visit," says Robert Mackey at The New York Times, "appear to have been inspired by fears that the Obama administration harbors a secret, pro-Islamist agenda." Protesters outside Clinton's hotels waved signs with messages like "Stop U.S. funding of the Muslim Brotherhood." Some Egyptians simply can't accept that Morsi defeated pro-military presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq fair and square, and they believe the U.S. somehow pulled strings behind the scenes to put Morsi in power. Another theory being bandied about in Egypt, says Linda S. Heard at the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News, is that Washington is out to bring down the army and give Morsi and his fellow Islamists "enough rope with which to hang themselves," so the U.S. can "tag Egypt as an extremist" state and swoop in to take the Suez Canal and the oil-and-gas-rich Sinai Peninsula for Israel.
2. America has lost influence in this vital region
The tomatoes fired Clinton's way show that "the U.S. cannot get on the good side of the radical 'Egyptian street,'" says Paul Mirengoff at Power Line. We were longtime buddies of the old regime, and "oppressed people have long, distorted memories." The Islamists who gained power in the Arab Spring revolts "hate what the United States traditionally stands for — freedom, secularism, and so forth. No one, not Clinton and not Obama, can overcome this hatred. Nor, considering its source, should they want to." Face it, we don't have the pull we used to have in the Arab world.
3. Clearly, the U.S. has to move slowly and carefully in Egypt
Clinton has to "tread a delicate diplomatic line," says Britain's The Telegraph in an editorial. Morsi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has run the country since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year, are "at loggerheads" over the fate of the now-dissolved Islamist-dominated parliament and the pace of the transition to civilian rule. Clinton's timely visit might encourage dialogue, but the Muslim Brotherhood is still deeply suspicious of the U.S. because it supported Mubarak for so long, and the military can't afford to cave to foreign pressure. "Trying to force the pace of reconciliation between the two sides will simply prove counter-productive."