THE EGYPTIAN CHALLENGE TO U.S. FOREIGN POLICY


Georgy Gounev

It could be successfully argued that the current period of temporary military rule in Egypt is the right time to explore the options for an effective American strategy with regard to that country.  Ideally, it would be much better if the long lasting branch of authoritarian secularism, existing in Egypt since the times of President Nasser, would be replaced by a system of political democracy.  A very painful question however is:  Are there any chances for the emergence of a democratic system out from the rubble of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency? 

An important fact that should be taken into account is that the chances for the establishment of a functioning political democracy in Egypt are slim.  First of all, ever since July of 1952 Egypt has been ruled by a military regime.  What makes the Egyptian situation so specific is that between 1952 and 1970, the army was protecting the secular, socialist, anti-Israeli and anti-American regime of President Nasser.   Between 1971 and 2011 however, with the same amount of devotion, the Egyptian military were protecting the secular, pro-American regimes of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

It was the smashing defeat during the Six Day War of June 1967, and the intense humiliation brought by it, that inflicted a deadly blow on the left-wing branch of Egyptian secularism.  What doesn’t look so clear today is the undisputable fact that the conservative, pro-capitalist brand of Egyptian secularism died in Tahrir Square.

Consequently, the only well-organized political entity of the country that in the eyes of public opinion is not marred either by corruption or by repression is the Muslim Brotherhood. According to a large score of American observers and scholars, the Brotherhood renounced violence and its only goal is to contribute to the creation of a democratic political system.  If this is the case, then the democratic future of Egypt is guaranteed and the American policymakers will have nothing to worry about!   The problem however is that regardless of all declarations, neither the turbulent history of the Brotherhood, nor its current politics, provide any reason for optimism.  What should not be forgotten is that no anti-democratic, discriminatory, or anti-Semitic components of the Brotherhood’s ideology have ever been rejected by the new generation of its members.

The complexity of this situation requires a clear cut American strategy. Its obvious goal should be to extend all possible support to the current military leadership of Egypt in order to create the necessary background for the transition of the Egyptian society to a multiparty secular democracy. There are two important problems however that need clarification.

The first one is the lack of an Egyptian related strategy on the part of the Obama administration. On the surface it seemed that the main dilemma of the American policymakers was the warm connection between the United States and an old, reliable ally a living symbol of stability in a notoriously unstable world.  However, he happened to be an autocratic dictator rejected by the majority of his own people.

An important symptom that the Obama administration was not ready for the events of Egypt in a clear and effective manner was the confusion among its ranks. The situation became particularly alarming when the reaction of the administration took the shape of a chorus lacking a conductor.  President Obama for instance declared that he was on the side of the “Egyptian people,” and in obvious favor of a quick resignation of President Mubarak.  This preference was hidden behind the concept of satisfying “the voice of the people.”

Meanwhile, a strong contradiction was developed between the statements of the White House and the Department of State that became obvious.  In the view of the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, there was room for President Mubarak’s administration to prepare the ground for a much more gradual transformation of the transition process rather than the speed preferred by President Obama.  On top of that it turned out that there was no unanimity on the Egyptian related issues even within the White House in light of the fact that according to Vice President Biden, President Mubarak wasn’t a dictator after all.

The same lack of clarity marked the answer given by the Obama administration to the extremely important question:  What should be (if any) the role of the United States in shaping the presumably democratic future of Egypt?  The President himself assured the world that the fate of Egypt will be decided by the Egyptians. This is an obvious answer, but not a very convincing one. Who on Earth would believe Mr. Obama in his claim that the United States will stay neutral to the developments affecting the most important country of the Arab world?

The sad truth is that President Obama’s team blocked the way for an effective strategy with regard to the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular, by refusing to address the main threat to American interests in the region.  It is an evident truth to anyone that the very name radical Islam sounds like an anathema to the high ranking members of the administration.

The lack of strategy designed to neutralize the most serious danger for the future not only of the United States, but also of the Western Civilization, is particularly disturbing in light of potential dangers lurking in the depth of Egyptian politics on the eve of the elections. What are the American contingency plans in case of a circa 1979 Iranian like situation in Egypt where a possible outbreak of violence could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power? Let’s not forget the extremely well-developed ability of the radical Islamists to navigate the murky waters. What will be the reaction of the administration to such a development?

There is a probability for another, even tougher, circa Algeria 1994 challenge to make its emergence. Let’s imagine a situation when the Egyptian military leaders refuse to relinquish power to a Muslim Brotherhood that had just won the elections. The question is will the U.S. stand behind the legitimacy of the Brotherhood victory or rather would it side with the military trying to prevent an Islamic takeover of the country?

Moving away from all those uncertainties, what is beyond any doubt is that the United States should proclaim loud and clear its decision not to extend any kind of financial or material assistance to any government that will violate its election campaign promise to secure the basic freedoms of its citizens.  In other words, what every future Egyptian voter should know is that the United States will be a determined enemy to any regime that will try to impose an unchangeable, fundamentalist and anti-democratic rule upon the people of Egypt.

A clear message informing the world where the United States stands as far as the future of Egypt is concerned inevitably will have its imprint on the outcome of the impending election campaign.

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