Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The fear of tomorrow

US policy towards Egypt has not been able to find its bearings since the ouster of the country’s former Brotherhood leadership, writes Ezzat Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

The recent developments in Egypt have added more burdens to discussions on US regional policies, future US leverage in the Middle East, and the ability of the US to contain the repercussions of the fall of political Islam in Egypt.
The kind of debates that have surrounded the fall of the Islamists in Egypt and in other Arab countries have left the American public and think-tanks in a kind of wonderland, shocked to see US policy towards the region facing one of its most critical moments since real US engagement with the Middle East started in the 1930s.
US policy-makers are still focussing on how to contain these repercussions without admitting the failures of Washington’s policy during the year when ousted former president Mohamed Morsi was in power in Egypt. But the major US newspapers and news networks have stopped short of really questioning the White House policy towards Egypt and have played the game according to the official rules.
As a result, these media outlets have been partners in the US policy failure. According to a survey carried out by the Arab-American commentator James Zogbi, the popularity of the US is in decline in Egypt. “Egyptians are divided on the matter of how important it is for their country to have good relations with the United States, with 48 per cent saying it is important and 51 per cent saying it is not important. Interestingly the only sub-group in which a majority agrees that relations with the US are important are the supporters of the Tamarod Movement,” Zogbi wrote earlier this week.
The survey also found that more than 50 per cent of Egyptians considered good relations with the United States as unimportant and two-thirds felt that the US had been too supportive of Morsi. More than eight in 10 felt that Egypt had been harmed by the US policy of support for the deposed president.
However, such surveys have not been able to find their way into the US mainstream media for reasons that include the inability of US policy-makers to absorb the upheaval against the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the close relationship between the Brotherhood’s propaganda machine and US journalists over the past year or more, and the fear among different segments of US society, especially in Washington, of a political void in the Middle East following the sudden collapse of the biggest Islamist movement in Egypt and the Arab world.
The visit of Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Cairo recently managed to narrow the differences between the US administration and the new leadership in Cairo. Since Burns’s visit, the tone of Washington’s criticisms of the new government has been tamed, and the statements made by senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham following their talks in Cairo have been presented as the result of a short-lived misunderstanding, with the state department rushing to distance US official policy from the senators’  “personal” remarks that had called what had happened in Egypt a “coup” and had asked the Egyptian authorities to release the leaders of the Brotherhood.
Before the recent visits of the US top diplomat and the congressmen, two major steps had also already eased tensions. The first came when US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the overthrow of Morsi had been a way of “restoring democracy” and that the “temporary government has a responsibility with respect to the demonstrators to give them the space to be able to demonstrate in peace”. The second came when the US senate voted against a resolution to halt or eliminate US aid to Cairo.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been courting the new government in Egypt behind the scenes in order to try to guarantee a place for the Muslim Brotherhood in the forthcoming elections and to stop the arrests of senior Brotherhood officials. Such demands have been met with unease in Cairo, and secular forces have accused the US administration of seeking to meddle in Egyptian politics.
Last Monday, the state department again called on the Egyptian government to put an end to the “politically-motivated” arrests. The administration has been trying to find a middle way, one that will not antagonise the Islamists but that will also avoid a backlash from the Egyptian military and secular forces, both of which are likely to determine the future rule of the country for years to come.
“To say that US policy towards Egypt is confused at this time would be an understatement,” Dina Girgis, advocacy director for the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said. “Having lost their newly minted Islamist ‘bastion of stability’ in the popularly demanded ouster of the Brotherhood, the US is now seeking to secure its interests against a backdrop of cultural, political and social pluralism and struggle, which constitutes a great challenge considering the traditional view of the US towards Egypt as a monolith,” she added.
The US’s image among young and revolutionary Egyptians should also confront decision-makers in Washington with a new reality that requires the different handling of a long-term process that should not be subjected to immediate US interests, but should instead be motivated by the ability of the American political establishment to capture the essence of recent events.
It is the fear of tomorrow that makes US politicians less than keen to abandon the premises of the country’s current policies, though it is in US interests to establish good relations with the nascent popular movement that could change the politics of the Middle East for decades to come.

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