Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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U.S. Policy on Egypt Needs A Big Shift

by Steven A. Cook
November 30, 2011

Protesters chant slogans against the head of the ruling military council Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi at Tahrir Square (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)

My good friend and colleague Marc Lynch and I published a piece in the International Herald Tribune on November 30th. I look forward to your comments!

Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, erupted in mass protests in January 2011, as the revolution in Tunisia inflamed decades worth of smoldering grievances against the heavy-handed rule of President Hosni Mubarak. After 18 days of angry protests and after losing the support of the military and the United States, Mr. Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, ending 30 years of autocratic rule, as the military stepped forward and pushed him from office.

The rapid fall of Mr. Mubarak in the face of protests that united young liberal demonstrators and the Muslim Brotherhood was the capstone event of the so-called Arab Spring, inspiring demonstrators in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

But nine months later, as Egyptians began voting in the first parliamentary elections since Mr. Mubarak’s fall, the future of the revolution was anything but clear.

Initially, the military had been seen as the linchpin of the transition to a more democratic regime. It was the institution Islamists hoped would steer the country to early elections that they were poised to dominate. Liberals regarded it as a hedge against Islamist power. And the Obama administration considered it a partner that it hoped would help secure American interests.

But in the months that followed, growing numbers of secular Egyptians wondered if what had happened was a popular revolution or a military coup — whether they had traded one military regime for another, one that would perhaps govern in partnership with the Brotherhood.

The military, which ruled through an 18-member council…

Read the full article here.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Imran Riffat

    This is an excellent piece of advice to those who manage, or mismanage, the PR aspect of our policies. The days of rule by military juntas, as well as the need to cozy up to dictatorial regimes, are over. I hope Mr. Donilson will read this article and take measures to follow up on this matter.

  • Posted by Arab American

    Would the US genuinely support real democracy in Egypt knowing its implications regarding the unpopular Egyptian-Israeli relationship?

  • Posted by kacomess

    Some elements of the Cook/Lynch article appear to have been superceded by events in Egypt since its publication in the IHT. However, a few comments are in order.

    First, US pressure for early elections has been counterproductive before and has been counterproductive again; as an illustration of the former, witness events in the Gaza Strip, where an organization the US considers inimical to its interests and those of its regional allies assumed power in a “popular” vote. In this case, Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations have a long history, a sophisticated political apparatus, a resonant “message” and a well-established base: their opponents on the left and in the center do not, hence “early elections” are inherently biased in favor of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. Of course, given these considerations, the Brotherhood’s electoral triumph was to be expected: thus, the outcome was predictable and should have been anticipated.

    Second, there is a perceptibly patronizing element inherent in the US policy of “telling” foreign countries what to do. That perception, probably more acute overseas than here at home, gains us little credit with the “elite” and with the “masses”.

    Third, political considerations favor a nuanced approach whilst pundits are screaming for something more “direct”. US leverage over Egypt is in the form of foreign aid, most of it military. Alienating the generals by private pressure and public announcements is fine, but the obviously conflicted approach to managing the new Islamist-dominated government of Egypt is most likely to garner the sort of response I’ve come to expect from our foreign policy: nobody likes us. It also reflects absence of a US “grand strategy” for managing Middle Eastern problems.

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