American attempts to push for a Western style democracy in Egypt may not yield the desired results. American foreign policy in the region is viewed with suspicion because of its past support for former President Hosni Mubarak and his regime and its overhanded support for Israel. The prevailing confusion concerning the beginnings of democracy in Egypt, despite electing Mohammed Morsi in the country’s largely fair and free elections has baffled policymakers. The on-going instability is a result of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, not transferring power to the newly elected president. The US is very keen on balancing a public push for a democratic Egypt against a desire to maintain long-term ties with dominant factions like Egypt’s military.
Earlier the pro-SCAF Egyptian Election Commission delayed the announcement of the results prompting the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta t0 warn his Egyptian counterparts in two separate phone calls not to alter the election results in favour of the military’s candidate and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, thereby disrupting the democratic process and the will of the Egyptian electorate and the democratic spirit unleashed by the Arab Spring.
In fact, Egypt has been a prominent ally of the US in the Arab region while serving its own economic and security interests. Despite this history of close cooperation between the two, today, the generals have repeatedly rebuffed the American pressure as the US is reported to be backing the Brotherhood thereby supporting the Islamists though the newly elected Islamist President who is still struggling to wrest power from the Egypt’s top generals. In fact, the generals have repeatedly ignored the American pressure, including the threat that it might end its $1.5 billion a year in economic assistance to Egypt, including $1.3 billion in military aid.
Further, President Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood harbour deep doubts about the US agenda. Even, some of the secular politicians in Egypt are accusing the US of conspiring to support the Brotherhood. Another secular political party and a Christian group have even called for a protest outside the US Embassy against what they assert to be the US support for the Islamists. Amidst this struggle for power between these two factions who are both being highly suspicious of American intentions, the US faces the quandary as to how to deal with a fast changing contest for power whose outcome is yet not clear.
American Agenda & Strategy
So what exactly is the purpose and consequent strategy of American foreign policy in Egypt, in particular, and in the broader Middle East and West Asian region, in general, in light of the phenomenon of the Arab Spring? As the Arab Spring took hold across the region in early 2011, the American administration slowly adopted a policy of selectively abandoning its long-term dictator allies in favour of a new realignment in the region. Such managed transition, it is thought by American strategists, would not only preserve America’s long term interests, but would also consolidate its capacity to face the new challenges as enunciated in the U.S. strategic vision of the new global threats.
However, with the quick unfolding of the Arab Spring in the entire Arab world, the US had to struggle with the consequences of these new developments that brought organised Islamic political forces to the forefront of their societies to assert for their self-determination.
By late last year the debate was settled within the administration by initiating a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the most organized and popular Islamic group in the region. Against this backdrop, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while arriving in Cairo recently to meet the newly elected president as well as Mr. Tantawi, planned to deliver a forceful public speech about democracy, but called this off because of the probability of provoking a powerful backlash. Obviously, a pertinent question arises here as to whether the US is committed to its declared agenda of democracy and freedom for all.
Of course, the US has to serve its strategic interests but that does not warrant its hypocrisy. Although the US has successfully been using the military generals to its exclusive end not only in Pakistan but also in many other countries for the past several decades, in Egypt, such exclusive benefits (oil and natural gas) are not available. A true democracy established in Egypt will be more fruitful to American economic and strategic interests. Perhaps recognizing this fact, Ms. Clinton publically called for Egyptian military to hand over power to Egypt’s new civilian leadership. All these appear to have lent a sense of futility and frustration regarding Washington’s actions. As Peter Mandaville, a scholar at George Mason University and the former adviser to the State Department, comments: “In some ways all the talk in Washington about what to do in Egypt is incredibly in-efficient.”
Earlier he had rightly advised the State Department on Islamist politics in the region: “At a time of virtually zero US influence, we don’t need to waste so much time figuring out how to try to get the Egyptian people to like us.”