A trajectory of future dilemmas
Ezzat Ibrahim reports from Washington on White House and State Department responses to Egypt's presidential election
The US government is scrambling to craft a balanced position after the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi was declared president of the Arab world's most populous state amid the uncertainties of the ongoing transition.
US President Barack Obama spoke over the phone with President-elect Mursi following the release of the election results, congratulating Egypt's first non-military president and pledging the two states would work together "on the basis of mutual respect". Obama also spoke with losing candidate Ahmed Shafik and asked him to support the democratic process in Egypt.
The following day White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the administration's position amid Republican criticism. He said the administration remained committed to the process that had led to Egypt's democratic elections.
The White House, he continued, looks forward to working with President Mursi and hopes he will respect the rights of all Egyptian citizens, including women and religious minorities. To circumvent the direction of a great deal of criticism Carney added: "We judge individuals and parties that are elected in a democratic process by their actions, not by their religious affiliations". He also drew attention to comments President-elect Mursi made regarding the upholding of civil rights, including those of women and Coptic Christians, "principles," said Carney, "that we very much think are important".
Some Republican Congress members have criticised the Obama Administration for receiving Brotherhood delegations in Washington, and both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern on how the Brotherhood's ascendancy might impact regional security and stability, not least on the Camp David Accords.
While White House officials believe Egypt will continue to uphold its treaty obligations, including the peace treaty with Israel, Washington is divided on the impact of Mursi's presidency on a range of domestic and regional issues.
"Mursi will have considerable sway over three key national decisions: first, whether Egypt's new government addresses its urgent economic problems by acceding to populist demands for 'social justice' or international and business-oriented demands for investment-focussed market reforms; second, whether it prioritises the Islamisation of public space as a way to reward supporters and counteract the bitter pill of economic austerity; and third, whether an emboldened Brotherhood will export its political success to the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, or elsewhere as part of an effort to invigorate Egypt's dormant regional role," the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Robert Satloff wrote earlier this week.
"It is difficult to imagine a Mursi-led Egypt adopting policies that align with US interests on all three of these questions," continued the pro-Israeli commentator. "Indeed, he may well pursue problematic policies on each of them. Figuring out Mursi's direction on these issues -- and gauging his reaction to costs Washington should consider imposing in the event he chooses a confrontational course -- is a top US priority. Mursi's early calming words notwithstanding, President Obama should refrain from giving further stamps of approval until the incoming leader and the government he will head clarify their approach on these core issues."
The Obama administration is carefully watching the transitional process. "Obviously the next step is for the president-elect to be inaugurated, for powers to be transferred to him, for a government to be formed that represents a perception of national unity, that is prepared to meet all of the pledges the president-elect made in his speech to the nation on Sunday with regard to upholding universal values, support for democracy, support for the country's external relations and a responsible role in the neighbourhood, etc," State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Monday.
The American media has been explicit in calling for a more democratic state. In the last few days major newspaper editorials have asked the administration to exert more pressure on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hand over power on time and reminded the MB of their daunting task.
"The United States should now press the military to hand over full governing power to Mr. Mursi's new administration by June 30... A diverse and fully representative body is needed to immediately begin work on a constitution that will consolidate a democratic rule of law, including civilian control over the military. A fairly elected parliament must be seated. For that to happen, the Muslim Brotherhood probably will have to make some concessions to the military. More important, it will have to build a broad alliance of pro-democracy forces, reassure Christian and secular Egyptians, and set aside most of its ideological agenda," said The Washington Post.
"It is still early days in Egypt's political transition. The experience of military-dominated one-party states such as South Korea and Taiwan in the 1980s and Indonesia in the 1990s (which had some structural similarities with Egypt) showed that it takes five to ten years from the start of the transition process before democracy becomes entrenched. In the meantime, there is plenty of scope for political turbulence," predicts Business Monitor International.