Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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American Policy and the New Egypt

by Elliott Abrams
September 5, 2012

Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood greets a crowd outside a mosque after attending Friday Prayers in Cairo, June 15, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Steve Crisp) Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood greets a crowd outside a mosque after attending Friday Prayers in Cairo, June 15, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Steve Crisp)

American policy toward Egypt is the subject of two important articles from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy today.

First, Eric Trager recounts his unhappy interview with Mohamed Morsi in 2010. From it, Trager draws some conclusions:

Morsi cannot be viewed as a typical head of state. He remains a cog within a much larger — and quite secretive — organization, and his presidency will likely be a vehicle for advancing the Brotherhood’s organizational goals, rather than a platform through which Morsi comes into his own. This would accord with the man I encountered two years ago: a Muslim Brother first, Mohamed Morsi second. This will create a host of challenges for Washington.

Some of those challenges relate to Egypt’s regional role and its foreign policy. Others relate to how the Brotherhood runs Egypt—and what place in Egypt non-Brotherhood citizens will have, whether they are Copts or are liberals, moderates, or secularists. After all, Morsi’s opponent in the recent presidential election, former general Ahmed Shafik, got 48.27 percent of the vote, demonstrating that there are many Egyptians who do not support transformation of their society to meet Brotherhood goals.

In the second article, the Egyptian intellectual and author Amin Makram Ebeid, pleads for American support of those Egyptians who seek a different, more liberal Egypt. He denounces in the strongest terms what he calls our abandonment of such Egyptians and our cozying up to the Brotherhood:

Today, liberals and religious minorities of Egypt are forced to helplessly face a U.S. administration that is prepared to sell the well-being of peace-hungry minorities such as the Christians, the liberal Muslims and the Baha’is to the Islamists and their oil rich Arabian financiers the well-being of peace-hungry minorities such as the Christians, the liberal Muslims and the Baha’is, all for thirty barrels of oil.

Ebeid’s views are not his alone. When Secretary Clinton visited Egypt in July, she faced a partial boycott by liberals and Copts:

A number of liberal and Christian politicians and public figures have condemned US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Egypt, accusing the United States of harbouring bias towards Egypt’s Islamist parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. This has coincided with several popular demonstrations against Clinton’s visit outside the US embassy in Cairo, the presidential palace and the Four Seasons hotel in which Clinton is staying. Liberal parties and movements, including the Free Egyptians party and the Front for Peaceful Change, have participated in the protests against Clinton’s visit.

No doubt the Obama administration would reply to all of these complaints by saying they are a very wrong reading of American policy. That is an inadequate answer, for we have a problem if liberals and moderates and Copts in Egypt believe they are getting no support from Washington. They, and not the Brotherhood, stand for the values in which we believe: separation of church and state, full equality for all citizens including women and non-Muslims, and a fully democratic political system.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Robin Chadwick

    Whatever we think of Morsi he was democratically elected, so that’s who we get to deal with. We cannot go aorund preaching the virtues of democracy, then expect Hilary Clinton to worry about the losing party in a democracy just because they are more like us than the winning party. I don’t think Elliott has yet recovered from our pushing the Palestinians to practice democracy so they did and voted in Hamas.

  • Posted by Long Live the Republic

    “Separation of church and state, full equality for all citizens including women and non-Muslims, and a fully democratic political system.”

    These are not values. These are structures of governance which have developed over time to accomodate the largest possible consensus. Only the first has its roots in the Constitution, as drafted.

    Values do not evolve and they do not derive from government.

  • Posted by Adam of Israel

    Dear Mr. Abrams,

    While your concerns for the minorities is 100% legitimate, the Obama administration has clearly chosen to engage with Morsey and the MB as a way of influencing their policy. Granted, that approach may deserve a certain skepticism but at the end of the day, the choice may be between some influence vs. very little influence.

    Egypt is not on a path toward liberal democracy, but the elements of accountability and legtimacy in government introduced by the dubiously named arab spring must be nourished, because the alternative is the islamist model of the Taliban and Iran, i.e. religious dictatorship. Preventing dictatorship by extremsists and fostering moderacy in a country with clear tendencies toward religious extremism should be attempted through engagement. Hopefully, the minorities of Egypt will be served by such a policy in the long run as well.

  • Posted by neville craig

    Spreading democracy ‘invented’ by N Sharansky and B Lewis and sold by the Bush Jr team now comes back to bite the US.
    Social networking systems have been encouraged by the US to stimulate change, and that pre-dates Hillary who majored on it.
    (I have that in personal conversation with Senior Amb R Murphy)

    Now that it is leading to loss of control, the US should stop all aid to Egypt and Israel to ‘clip the wings’ of the religious bigots.

    The MB have been a ‘long time a-comin’ – I first observed them as reasonable professional men at the Jordan river, protesting days before Saddam invaded Kuwait 1990. Well done America!

  • Posted by Dioscorus Boles

    Ecellent article. I have always said the same: If they Copts are critical of America’s foreign policy in Egypt, then there must be something seriously wrong with it not being consistent with America’s great values.

  • Posted by Balasticman

    Egypt is putting itself out to the highest bidder. The United States has managed to reduce its standing enough such that it no longer has the benefit of the doubt militarily, politically or economically in a country that has been a strategic ally for the better part of the past half century. And good luck dealing with our new “partners”, who, whether “pro-business” or not, are wedded to a regressive ideology antithetical to modern values. The US chose to back the wrong horse in Egypt, and the world is going to pay the price for this. http://balasticman.blogspot.it/2012/09/egyptian-monopoly.html

  • Posted by diana

    Morsi has to feed Egypt. That will keep him quite busy for some time and the food situation can make him quite unpopular.

  • Posted by diana

    The Pope could help with the Copts?……the church has their hands full fith other more serious problems than helping fellow christinns…………..

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