Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Washington’s second shock

For the second time in just two years, the situation in Egypt has taken the US administration by surprise, writes Ezzat Ibrahim from Washington

Al-Ahram Weekly

Unlike what happened during last year’s 25 January Revolution, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Egyptian president one day before the issuing of the controversial constitutional declaration that consolidates the president’s powers against a possible Constitutional Court decision to dissolve both the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, and the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution.
The declaration, announced by President Mohamed Morsi on the same day that he brokered a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, led to protests across Egypt. The declaration shields Morsi’s decisions from judicial review, spurring protests against him and fears of broader instability in Egypt nearly two years after the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in the 25 January Revolution.
The Obama administration rushed to welcome Morsi’s efforts to end the missile war in the Gaza Strip, with US President Barack Obama and his senior aides moving to reshape the image of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in US public opinion by praising his “personal leadership” in the Gaza crisis.
However, some State Department officials were reluctant to adopt the White House approach because of their experience of the Brotherhood in Egypt. US Ambassador to Cairo Ann Paterson has played a major role in pushing the White House to adopt its rapprochement with the Brotherhood, even though she is quite aware of the debates in Egypt regarding Morsi’s move to protect the Constituent Assembly and to rein in the powers of the Constitutional Court.
Senior US officials have limited contacts in Egypt over the past few months to circles around President Morsi, with Paterson in particular ignoring the opposition. One senior US official on Monday expressed concerns at the situation in Egypt, but declined to reveal whether the US embassy had discussed the constitutional declaration with the Egyptian government and the president’s advisers.
“We try to make sure that such measures do not violate basic rights, checks and balances, and the health of the democratic process,” the official said in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. However, “we do not discuss details of national decisions.”
Spokesperson of the US State Department Victoria Nuland confirmed at a press briefing that Clinton had known about the declaration and its contents when she met Morsi in Cairo last week, and both she and the White House have cold-shouldered the country’s opposition.
Obama had not called Morsi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, but “we’ve raised concerns” about the declaration. “We support democracy, we believe the government in Egypt ought to reflect the will of the people, and the Egyptian people have to decide what that government will look like.”
Carney made careful reference to the one-million-man march opposing Morsi’s actions. “The transition to democracy will be achieved by the Egyptian people, not by the manner in which we raise concerns... It’s important to take a longer view here,” he said, in order to build a “new partnership” with the Egyptian president and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi had “played a constructive role” in bringing “about a ceasefire [in Gaza], so that lives could be saved and the possibility of moving forward on negotiations for a more enduring peace could be realised,” the spokesman said, adding that “separately we’ve raised concerns about some of the decisions and declarations that were made on 22 November.”
This so-called “constructive role” has paved the way for the Egyptian president to push for greater US support in international institutions and eventually to host a visit by Morsi to Washington.
“The new leader of Egypt might nevertheless have got the wrong message,” one senior US official told the Weekly on condition of anonymity. While the new administration in Egypt has been seeking to benefit to the maximum from the role it played in the Gaza conflict, hoping that this means that the US administration will give it the green light to realise its domestic ambitions, Obama himself has not spoken to Morsi since his telephone call regarding the Gaza ceasefire.
US policy now faces new challenges in dealing with the new government in Egypt, since the White House and Congress need to agree on the best way forward, one that will balance US national interests and Israel’s security and at the same time put forward a clear vision of how best to deal with the democratic transition in the country.

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