Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Hanging in the balance

The recent visit of US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Cairo has only emphasised American uncertainty about how to react to Egypt’s 30 June Revolution, writes Ezzat Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

When William Burns, US deputy secretary of state, arrived in Cairo last weekend, the Egyptian public could not hide its resentment of the US approach to the 30 June Revolution against ousted former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Burns usually visits Egypt when things appear confused to US policymakers. It has happened several times over the last 30 months since the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak. US policymakers are currently trying to proceed in uncharted waters, and Burns informed top officials in Cairo that Washington did not back any one side in Egypt and the Obama administration supported a “balanced and inclusive” democratic process in which all political groups could participate.

After holding meetings with his Egyptian interlocutors, Burns told reporters that he had urged the Egyptian authorities not to undertake politically motivated arrests. The senior American official also tangled with the same confusing position that the US administration has backed, siding with the aspirations of those who took to the streets but not making any clear statement on whether the United States saw the 30 June upheaval as a genuine revolution or not.

According to US reports, Burns’s meeting with Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was not able to reach agreement on the current situation, and the Egyptian official told the US to adopt “a more realistic approach”. In return, Burns repeated the same rhetoric of the administration, which remains committed to a stable, democratic and inclusive Egypt.

The Egyptian military leadership has answered criticisms of its role in ousting Morsi by saying that the army was simply following the will of the people. In a meeting with activists in Cairo, Burns struggled with the defiant young people’s argument that the current road map was meant to reinstate the civilian government, their insisting that the map was designed by the forces of the 30 June Revolution and not by the military.

The activists said that the United States should respect the will of the Egyptian people and their desire to build a new and modern state. The attendees warned against what they saw as rising anti-Americanism because of the blurred US policy.

The US statements are based on the delicate position of the Obama administration with regard to recent developments. The administration worked with Morsi’s government for a year to build a strong and reliable partnership with the first Islamist president in the modern history of Egypt. Ousting Morsi has created a new headache for US regional policy, with some observers in Washington believing that the US government cannot afford to alienate the Muslim Brotherhood and its various affiliated groups.

Pro-Morsi activists in different parts of the Muslim world have warned the US of possible “retaliation” should the US support what they call the “military coup” in Cairo. Meanwhile, with rising anti-Islamist resentment in Egypt itself, the US is finding it difficult to keep the Brotherhood as part of the political process, since millions of Egyptians went out onto the streets against the regime and accused the US of supporting a failed government that had been working with Washington to sustain American interests in Egypt and the region.

Both pro-Morsi activists and those who managed to topple him rail against the US. The leaders of Tamarod, the movement behind the ousting of Morsi, told Al-Ahram Weekly the night before the meeting with Burns that they had refused an invitation from the US embassy because such meetings constituted “interference” in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

The US-Egyptian military relationship is also a cornerstone of order in the region, and the ousting of Morsi has put a burden on both the White House and the Pentagon concerning how to deal with a situation where a popular uprising managed to topple an elected president. Observers in Washington believe that the administration has no appetite for terminating its aid to Egypt of about $1.55 billion a year, $1.3 billion of which goes to the military, for fear of antagonising one of Egypt’s most important institutions.

Under US law, aid must stop to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree” or is toppled in “a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” Nevertheless, US law does not specify any deadline for imposing the cut in aid, which gives the administration time to manoeuvre and to avoid compromising US interests.

Were the aid to be cut, only US President Barack Obama could then resume it by certifying to Congress that “a democratically elected government has taken office.” The US administration is pushing the interim Egyptian government to hold presidential elections as soon as possible in order to avoid more embarrassment, but it seems the White House has not been able to push successfully for these elections.

“We ought to be utilizing the private military channels to Egypt’s generals to persuade them to adopt an inclusive return to democratic governance, protecting the rights of all, including to free speech. We should also utilize those private channels to broker the prompt release of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership based on assurances that they will urge their followers to stay calm and engage in a renewed electoral campaign,” wrote Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, on the magazine Foreign Policy’s website early in July.

Many Western analysts are expecting that the United States will continue to hold the balance between its relations with the Egyptian president and the Egyptian army. “The balance will always shift to the side that ensures the continuity of Egypt’s commitment to the following: the Camp David Peace Treaty, the retention of a demilitarized Sinai, retaining multinational troops and observers led by the US, maintaining gas exports to Israel, isolating Hamas, resisting Iran’s efforts to expand its influence, resisting Al-Qaida, and keeping the Suez Canal open,” Eurasia Review said earlier this week.








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