Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Marriage of convenience in Egypt

By Stephan Richter (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-13 08:09

There is a country whose president went to Egypt early after taking office to give a speech that sang the praises of moving toward democracy in the Arab world. And a country whose secretary of state is a strong voice condemning any restrictions being put on the unfolding of that process.

This country has invested, on a bipartisan basis, in democracy building organizations on the ground, in Cairo and beyond. And the prominent technology firms of this country have taken the credit for having facilitated the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak with their social media tools.

This country has invested lock, stock and barrel in the steady transition and unlimited unfolding of democracy in Egypt. But it is also a country that has cast in its lot with the powers that be.

It is a country whose foreign policy and military establishments have long made a point of training Egyptian officers as they rise through the ranks: a practice that has ensured close contacts not just with the current military leadership, but also the next one and the one after that.

This entente cordiale with the military is not just an exercise in fraternization and the sharing of lofty goals; material self-interest is the name of the game. Egypt's military, has the kind of military hardware every soldier dreams of and its provider gets support with its strategic objectives.

The country pursuing these diametrically opposed strategies is of course the United States. Evidently, US strategists have learned something from the financial markets, for their bet seems to be a fully hedged position.

This is never acknowledged, of course. So that whenever Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces makes another far-reaching announcement, dissolving parliament, nixing presidential or prime ministerial candidates, or pre-shaping the new constitution, then Washington can easily go into huff-and-puff mode.

This is not the way Egyptian authorities should act, it argues. They should let the budding democratic process run its course, it insists. Yes, it acknowledges, there will be hiccups and setbacks along the way, but it is important that, following the first real elections in the country, the Egyptian people choose their own path. In one variation or another, US policy officials are tirelessly broadcasting this message.

But there's the Muslim Brotherhood, which may establish a full-blown Islamic state. This would be a nightmare for Washington. For the past half-century, the entire US strategy toward Egypt has been shaped by one overriding concern: creating a neighboring environment that does not threaten Israel.

The trouble with that strategy, however, is most Egyptians believe the US engaged in lots of unsavory dealings with the Mubarak regime and Egypt's military in order to attain this.

Given that the Egyptian military is not just a state within a state, but also a highly successful business enterprise, it is understandable why most Egyptians, often desperately poor, despise it. The US has not only tolerated this state of affairs, it has actively supported it.

No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood has a lot of currency with the population at large. This would be the case even without the tough economically and politically disorienting times that Egypt is currently embroiled in.

As regards Egypt's future, the signs are ominous. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces casts itself not just as the patron saint of the country, but increasingly as a tough-minded, constitution-writing monarch that knows what is best for all the people living under its tutelage.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the ways it chooses steer around the shoals of potential extremism are designed to attract the support of the security establishment in Washington.

Meanwhile, the US maintains a stance of public indignation, and thus plausible deniability on all fronts.

The US strategists are quite happy to think that their country, for once, has played all its cards right in terms of having what seems like a fully hedged position. It acts both as a promoter of the democratization process as well as a background force behind the Egyptian military's unceasing efforts to bringing about the quasi-restoration of the previous regime.

The author is editor-in-chief of and president of the Globalist Research Center based in Washington DC.

(China Daily 07/13/2012 page9)

Most Viewed Today's Top News
New type of urbanization is in the details