Does US Want Democratic Egypt?
It’s understandable that each country is entitled to pursue its national interests, and that one country’s national interest may partially conflict with that of another. But it’s difficult to comprehend how a country’s interests would be fixated around the Middle East’s stability, and Israel’s security — to the bitter end. Before Egypt’s January 2011 revolution, US President Barack Obama ignored calls by pro-democracy advocates against the American alliance with the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. But even the revolution has not been enough proof to convince American decision makers that stability under a US- and Israel-friendly, yet dictatorial regime is phony and unsustainable.
Back to square one, the Obama administration in March 2012 restored its $1.3 billion annual military aid to Egypt, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms.
The US’ decisive support for Egypt’s ruling military council ridicules attempts by American officials to give the US credit for Egyptians’ pro-democracy efforts. It flies in the face of claims by the US Ambassador last year of spending millions of US dollars in aid to Egyptian “pro-democracy groups.”
For years, American politicians have claimed to support democratization efforts in Egypt, a support that has always been reluctant and shaky; a support that has never been genuine enough to the point of provoking those ruling Egypt into violating the security of bordering Israel.
Many US politicians know that they will never attain the two goals of a seeing real democracy in Egypt while at the same time preserving the region’s status quo. Yet they continue — especially mainstream Democrats and neoconservatives from the Republican side — to speak about supporting democratization in Egypt, often mocking themselves by making conflicting statements that reflect a vague, fluctuating stance.
The rhetoric about promoting democracy in a country that witnessed an awe-inspiring revolution that is said to have impressed the world for 18 days could help US politicians live up to American public opinion expectations of their country’s position as the righteous world leader.
But because the democratization of Egypt could mean an independent Middle Eastern state with policies that reflect what the majority of Egyptians want, policies that defend Egyptian national interests, the US brand of democracy propagated here is not meant to be genuine.
It could be tailored to the neoconservative vision of the New American Century Project, which views a future democracy in the Middle East only under the US’ leadership of the world. Or it could be in line with the ultraconservative view that Egypt will be a democracy only if run by hardcore secularists, regardless of the striking unpopularity of the Egyptian secular elite — and ironically regardless of the fact that the American proponents of such a perspective are strongly opposed to liberal secularists on their own turf, in the United States.
But now that the most populous country in the region may be ruled by Muslim Brothers for at least the next four years, American politicians have been forced to deal with those who don’t live up to the American standards of modernity. US rulers seem to tolerate the Muslim Brothers as long as they pledge to honor the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and maintain a free market economy in line with the neoliberal, pro-privatization guidance of the Western-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which kept praising the Egyptian economy’s performance under Mubarak and former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s businessmen-dominated cabinet until shortly before the revolution. An increasingly right-wing Egypt was reported by the Wall Street Journal in August 2010 to be “a Washington economic favorite”, shortly before millions of Egyptians burst into the historic chant of “bread, freedom, social justice.”
It is unfair to attribute the constitutional mess and the stagnant democratization that Egypt is living through now to the US alliance alone, but it is accurate to acknowledge that the US has been praising the undemocratic transitional process and the fake elections it has seen. This lopsided process, designed by the ruling military council, began with the election of a parliament and a president before drafting a constitution that would allocate powers to the state’s legislative and executive bodies.
As Egyptians first revolted and ousted Mubarak despite the US support for him, they will eventually lead their distressed revolution to success, and Egypt will become a democracy and will become independent from US influence. And those who will rule post-revolution Egypt, regardless of how “revolutionary” they may seem, are not expected to dance to America’s tune as Mubarak did.
As much as the United States likes to think that Egyptians need it, it is America that needs Egypt, or else it would not have given it more than $60 billion of American tax payers’ money over the past three decades.
A democratic Egypt, which is yet to be shaped, will eventually thrive — with or without US support. Once this dream becomes a reality, whoever rules Egypt will no longer be able to ignore the will and interests of Egyptians.
Sooner or later, an American-Israeli zero-sum calculation may seize to be viable.
Sara Khorshid is an Egyptian journalist and columnist who has written on Egypt and on Muslim-Western relations for the past 10 years. Her articles are published in The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Al Shorouk Egyptian daily, Alarabiya.net, Common Ground News Service, Znet, and numerous other media outlets. Until July 2009 she was the managing editor of IslamOnline.net’s Politics in Depth Section (now OnIslam.net). She can be reached at sarakhorshid[at]gmail[dot]com.