Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Chaos of US Morsi policy

There has been an at best ambiguous outcome to a recent visit by Egyptian presidential officials to the US, writes Ezzat Ibrahim in Washington

Al-Ahram Weekly

The US administration finds itself once again at a critical conjuncture on the course of the democratic reforms of the Arab Spring and how a pivotal country, Egypt, should be treated following last year’s revolution against its old ally, ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

Last week’s visit to Washington by Essam Al-Haddad, an aide to the new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, together with senior officials from the presidential office, has left many questions without answers on both the American and Egyptian sides.

US President Barack Obama received Al-Haddad at the White House after the latter had met with Tom Danllion, US national security adviser, in an unusual move for such visits.

The White House communiqué did not mention the meeting between Obama and Al-Haddad, but a press release from the Egyptian embassy in Washington later revealed the meeting had taken place, saying in a brief statement that the US president was looking forward to receiving Morsi at the White House following his second-term inauguration in January.

According to private sources in Washington, Al-Haddad confirmed Morsi’s position on continuing “the strategic partnership” between the two countries in the meeting and asserted the need to increase the level of contacts on regional issues.

According to the Washington Post, Al-Haddad had told the editorial board of the newspaper that the new government in Egypt hoped that its relationship with the Obama administration would be based on “shared values” and affirmed that the relationship “has a great potential to develop new hope within the region and even beyond the region”.

At the top of the Egyptian delegation’s agenda was the prospect of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president playing a leading role in regional security arrangements. “Egypt can play a greater role in maintaining regional peace and security, and the United States is highly interested in making that happen,” Al-Haddad said.

The Egyptian delegation met a wide range of officials at the White House, the State Department, Congress and think-tanks in Washington in order to clarify Egypt’s policies before a planned visit by Morsi to the city.

However, the escalation of the tension in Egypt following Morsi’s 22 November constitutional declaration and the voting on the draft constitution haunted the visit and pushed both governments to postpone Morsi’s visit.

In addition to the meetings held by Al-Haddad, Hussein Al-Kazzaz, Morsi’s economic adviser, met with senior officials at the IMF and World Bank to discuss the final steps before the incoming meeting of the IMF board of directors next week.

The outcome of Egypt’s constitutional referendum next Saturday will likely affect the IMF regarding loans to Egypt. The presidential advisers sent a clear message in official meetings and think-tank sessions that the new leadership in Egypt wanted to develop a new partnership with the international organisations and the United States over the next four years.

The delegation defended Morsi’s decision to extend his powers, arguing that the difficult nature of the democratic transition in Egypt made the move necessary. It answered criticisms over the use of force against protesters in Egypt, with Al-Haddad telling the New York Times that “protests are an essential and treasured component of any real democracy, so long as they aren’t violent.”

He also told the US media that Morsi would give up his extraordinary powers once a new parliament had been elected. On the constitution, he tried to put the matter in a larger context, especially the articles relating to Islamic law.

“Sharia, as we understand it, is the basic value of the 25 January Revolution. It is dignity, justice and freedom. How to implant this within the country is something the parliament will decide,” Al-Haddad told CNN.

Following last Wednesday’s clashes, the White House declined to take sides on the issue and called for all parties to refrain from violence. “The United States has a very important relationship with Egypt. The president has worked effectively with President Morsi on key issues, including recently the negotiated ceasefire in Gaza. We are monitoring the situation,” Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

“As Egyptians continue to express their views, we look to the government of Egypt to respect the freedoms of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint. We also continue to call on demonstrators and political parties to take all possible measures to avoid confrontation and violence,” he added.

However, the tone of the White House and State Department statements has left unease behind them, requiring President Morsi “to express his deep concern about the deaths and injuries of protesters”. Obama also called on all political forces in Egypt to stop short of imposing preconditions for national dialogue.

It seems that the high-level meetings in Washington have failed to contain the damage of the polarised political scene in Cairo, as the major US newspapers have criticised the Obama administration for not sending clearer signals to the Egyptian president and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The United States cannot return to a policy that ignores domestic repression in Egypt, especially when it is directed against secular and liberal movements,” the Washington Post said.

The forthcoming referendum on the new constitution was also met with different reactions in US circles. The rightwing media has warned the US public of the possibility of “Islamic authoritarianism” in Egypt, with The Wall Street Journal saying that “the present trend is towards Mubarak with a beard,” concluding that even though Obama had called Morsi last week “his influence is undetectable”.

The administration has also been criticised by senior journalists, with David Ignatius, a Washington Post writer, launching a major attack on US policy towards the new Egypt.

“We should remind ourselves that we’re witnessing a revolution that may take decades to produce a stable outcome,” Ignatius wrote. “With the outcome so hard to predict, it’s a mistake to make big bets on any particular player. The US role should be to support the broad movement for change and economic development and to keep lines open to whatever democratic government emerges.”

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