Need for change for US policy on Egypt, analysts

Jason Brownlee from University of Texas and Charles Dunne from Freedom House assess the US foreign policy on Egypt in the aftermath of the military coup that deposed country's first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi.

Need for change for US policy on Egypt, analysts

Jason Brownlee, an associate professor of Government and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and Charles W. Dunne, director Middle East and Northern Africa programs at Freedom House, have evaluated US foreign policy on Egypt for the Anadolu Agency. Brownlee says the US gives the impression of supporting the army because it needed "a new stabilizer", and Dunne stresses that the US should rethink its relationship with Egypt since the circumstances have changed dramatically compared to the Mubarak era. Brownlee believes the US wants stability in Egypt because it is one of America's crucial strategic allies, a vital part of US strategy in the Middle East, helping to project US military power to the Persian Gulf and protect Israel's security.  Brownlee says Mohammed Morsi was doing a fine job -- contrary to what many think -- of asserting those US goals, basically continuing Hosni Mubarak’s policies toward Israel and towards the Gaza Strip.  "So Morsi was perfectly good for the US," he asserts.

"In the beginning the US was still hoping that Morsi would be able to find some type of political solution and hold on to his office. Once he was removed by the military, then immediately the US started looking for a new stabilizer, basically a new leader it was kind of get things under control and their rhetoric shows that they have moved on from Morsi."

Brownlee says that this situation was consistent with general US foreign policy: "The US would basically support the incumbent if he is loyal, but if he gets overthrown, then the US, too, switches sides and shifts its bets and have whoever he's gonna be that is alternative." 

- US "tacitly endorses" Egyptian military 

Brownlee says the US administration has been unwilling to strongly criticize the Egyptian military, using the leverage to push for political solution. 

He further notes that the US in principle would oppose to Egyptian military's overseeing "a Tiananmen Square style massacre" on its watch, and adds, "But in fact it seems to accept, even tacitly endorse, given their signals to Egyptian transitional leadership that basically they can continue doing, handling things as they have to."

"So obviously we have not seen Obama administration call the July 3rd action a coup and I don't see them doing that if it's going to trigger the legal ramification of suspending US aid. That's not because they have any ideological opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, its just that the facts on the ground or that the MB, government has been toppled and now the US needed the new stabilizer, it needs a new leadership, a new interlocutor in Egypt that they can turn to for its key interests." 

- "Democracy is not top US priority in Egypt"

Brownlee thinks that democracy is not US's top priority in Egypt.

"Top priority is those strategic interest. If democracy serves this strategic interest, great."

Reminding that the strategic importance of Egypt diminished dramatically after the Cold War, "However", says Brownlee, "Egypt still has an important passive role to play in maintaining the treaty with Israel, in supporting American diplomatic initiatives and also in facilitating US military force projection through Egyptian airspace or from Egyptian territory in some kind of a Western air base and through Suez Canal where US vessels enjoy preferential passage and rights."

"My impression is that when it comes to Al-Qaida and anti-terrorism, Obama administration is very proactive, in terms of using drone strikes, using American special forces to carry out covert operations. In anti-terrorism they can be very proactive and very aggressive. But when it comes to kind of diplomacy in the region and issues of democratization I would say they are reactive, definitely they are reactive."

Dunne, the director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House, believes that the US must reassess its policy on Egypt but he says chances are slim that it will do.

Dunne says the US has been "caught off guard" by the events in Egypt. 

He recalls US Ambassador in Cairo Anne Patterson's comments discouraging public protests against Morsi even before army's takeover by saying "stick to the ballot box", and Dunne says it has offended a lot of Egyptians.

"I think they were caught off guard by the result which obviously was a popular uprising followed by the military coup," Dunne says, adding that the US was still in the process of figuring out what its policy should be.

"What I am afraid of is that they will then throw their support fully behind the military backed government, just as they did behind Morsi and Mubarak." 

Noting that the US gave full support to military backed government and paid "not enough attention" for democratic change, Dunne says, "Same way the US supported Morsi without playing human rights violations and same thing happened with Mubarak. So this is an old song that we have heard many times before. And I think now is a great opportunity for the US to reevaluate its policy and stick up more prominently for human rights and democracy in Egypt. My fear is they won't do it."

Dunne says for a US policy maker, the current situation was worse than when Mubarak fell because "now there is the possibility of massive and continuing social unrest, political violence, destabilizing demonstrations and much greater anti-Americanism by both sides."

- "US will take a very low key position 

Dunne notes that the US will probably take "a very low key position", although it "has still some opportunities in its hand if it speaks about its principles without taking sides in the political conflicts." 

Dunne adds: "Those opportunities include being more honest in public when it sees human rights violations, when it sees problems in implementing the roadmap that puts to lead to elections."

Dunne believes that the US should suspend its aid to Egypt.

"The US administration doesn't want to do anything that would disrupt its relationship with the military, they are concerned about the peace with Israel, they are concerned about covert terrorism cooperation, they are concerned about undermining Egypt’s stability. 

"For all those reasons I think they are going to avoid suspending or even questioning the aid package," he says.

- "US establishes relation with whoever is on power"

Dunne says the tendency of the US government is simply to establish relations with whoever happens to be holding power. 

"So I think tendency will be to give military the benefit of the doubt, to urge them in general terms, do things to restart democratic transition. But it is going to go very easy on them in terms of human rights and political rights violations, I think it's the wrong way to go right now, I think we have an opportunity to make a difference, because situation is very fluid. But I am sceptical that will happen."

Dunne says the US strategy is not ambiguous. 

"If it was a little more ambiguous maybe it would give military the reason to say they have to be more careful in dealing with US interests. But I think relationship fundamentally has not changed over the past few decades, again it comes back to all of these things: maintenance of peace treaty, having Egypt playing a positive diplomatic role in the region, giving US military access to Suez Canal, and the military over flight clearances that was much more important when we still have fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"All of these things have meant that the US conception of the relationship has been very stable for a long time. What that means for political developments is that while the US will talk about human rights and democracy in practice it is not going to do a great deal for fear that it would disturb strong relationship between governments and military establishments."

Dunne says ambiguity to some extent would be "useful" both for US foreign policy and Egyptians "if US would say, 'we are evaluating this relationship because circumstances are so changed than what they were even 5 years ago, we need to figure out the future direction of relationship.'"

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