Now Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, who was their Cairo bureau chief at the time, has come out with an article that offers some context. First, it turned out that within Egypt, the people whose streeet protests led to the fall of the military regime and the holding of that fateful election were not really interested in democracy. What they wanted was a country more like Europe: more personal freedom, more equality for women, a freer and richer economy. When they got the Muslim brotherhood instead most of them decided to turn against the election and start calling for another military intervention.
There were also big divisions within the Obama administration over how to react:
“The people who wanted to have a different kind of relationship with the Egyptian people, including the president, were on an island in our own government,” Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, later told me. “There was a sense of inevitability about the military resuming control.”The American military were especially leary, since they spent a lot of time working with Middle Easterners – Saudis, Kuwaitis, Israelis, the Egyptian military – who regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as just another ally of al Qaeda and a terrible danger to peace in the region. But not just the military:
Civilians in government were skeptical, too. Secretary of State John Kerry had grown close to many of the most fiercely anti-Islamist Persian Gulf royals during his decades in the Senate, even sometimes yachting with them. He had always distrusted the Brotherhood, he told me years later. When he visited Cairo for the first time as secretary of state in March 2013, he took an immediate dislike to Mr. Morsi.Obama spoke to Morsi and urged him to make some dramatic gesture to his opposition, reminding him that Nelson Mandela made one of his own prison guards head of his presidential security detail.
“He is the dumbest cluck I ever met,” Mr. Kerry told his chief of staff as they left the presidential palace. “This isn’t going to work. These guys are wacko.”
Mr. Kerry got along better in his one-on-one meeting with Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. A former military intelligence chief, General Sisi had vaulted himself into the job of defense minister in a shake-up just a few months before.
“I will not let my country go down the drain,” General Sisi told Mr. Kerry, as he later recalled to me. He knew then that “Morsi was cooked.” General Sisi was prepared to intervene. Mr. Kerry felt partly relieved, he told me.
“It was reassuring that Egypt would not fall into a civil war or a complete massacre of the public or an implosion,” Mr. Kerry said, although he added, “I did not sit back and think, ‘Great, our problems are going to be solved.’”
“Be bold,” he added. “History is waiting for you.”But Morsi would not or could not reach out to his opposition, so hardliners within the US government eventually got their way and we ended up endorsing the coup against him.
It's a sad tale. But it also makes me wonder: could a different man, in Morsi's position, have made those bold gestures, brought some of his opponents into his administration and engineered a different outcome? Or was Morsi simply in an impossible position, unable to make any concessions without alienating his own key supporters?
Are the divisions within Egypt simply too raw and deep to be bridged within a democratic system, or would it have been possible with the right inspired leadership?
How much difference can one person make in a nation's history?