By: Sudhanshu Tripathi, Ph.D
The US effort to balance push for nascent democracy with control over powerful Islamists may not yield the desired result due to having failure in overcoming the history of suspicion towards them.
The on-going uncertainty as regards restoration of democracy in Egypt, even after successfully installing a new Islamist President Mohammed Morsy in the country’s free presidential election after a long period of turmoil, has led to baffle policy makers all over the world, particularly the US, which is very keen to balance a public push for a democratic Egypt against a desire to maintain long-term ties with dominant factions like powerful army generals and the Islamists having strong connections with otherwise deep rooted and popular organisation “Muslim Brotherhood”.
In fact, the country has been a prominent ally of the US, in recent past, in the Arab region while serving its (the US) economic and security interests. Despite this history, today, though the generals have repeatedly rebuffed the American pressure as the US is reported to be conspiring to back the Brotherhood thereby backing the Islamists; the newly elected Islamist President is still struggling hard to wrest power from the Egypt’s top generals. In fact, the generals have repeatedly ignored the American pressure, including the threat that it might end its $1.5 billion a year in economic assistance to Egypt, including $1.3 billion in military aid.
Further, the President Morsey and other leaders of Muslim Brotherhood themselves harbour deep doubts about the US agenda. Even, some of the secular politicians in Egypt are accusing the US of conspiring to support the Brotherhood. Another secular political party and a Christian group have even called for a protest outside the US Embassy against what they assert to be the US support for the Islamists. Amidst such struggle for power between these two factions and both being highly suspicious of the American intentions, the US, in itself, reflects its quandary with how to deal with a fast changing contest for power whose outcome is yet not clear.
US’ true intention?
Against this backdrop, although the US Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Clinton, while arriving in Cairo to meet the newly elected President on 14th just gone by, did plan her best to deliver a forceful public speech about democracy, but she had to call off its three draft versions in the given the context wherein existed all probability of its provoking a powerful backlash. Obviously, a pertinent question arises here as to why is not the US honestly committed to its declared agenda of democracy and freedom for all or why is it hobnobbing with the Islamists or fundamentalists not only in Egypt but all over the World.
Of course, the US has to serve its strategic interests as all other countries are doing, but that does not warrant it to adopt the policy of double speak or anything like that, because being the first hyper power in the world, it is supposed to honour basic principles of natural justice and equity as well propounded in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. In fact, the main US worry is fear of the military predominance in Egypt, like that in Pakistan which has never been able to ensure peace and stability therein, because it (Egyptian military) has recently grabbed power and has failed to return to civilians despite having promised, under international pressure, to do so by July 1, 2012.
Although the US has successfully been using the military generals to its exclusive end not only in Pakistan but also in many other countries of Europe, South east Asia, South Asia, Caribbea and Horn of Africa etc. for the past many decades but here in Egypt such exclusive benefits (oil and natural gas) are not available which the US does not want to part with at any cost because there are several powerful contenders, particularly Russia and China etc.. Hence a true democratic set up in Egypt will be more fruitful to the US’ economic and strategic interests. Perhaps recognising this fact, Ms. Clinton publically called for Egyptian military to hand over power to civil authority, however, in a veiled statement, that the US would work “to support the military’s return to a purely national security role.”
All these appear to have lent a sense of futility and consequent frustration in the US administration officials as regards Washington’s muffled voice in the future of its strategic ally in the region. As Peter Mandaville, a scholar at George Mason University and the former adviser to the State Department, comments: “In some ways all the talk in Washington about what to do in Egypt is incredibly in-efficient.” Earlier he had rightly advised the State Department on Islamist politics in the region: “At a time of virtually zero US influence, we don’t need to waste so much time figuring out how to try to get the Egyptian people to like us.”
Thus, in the present context, the best course will be to support the Egyptian democracy as many US officials earnestly look for, said Mandeville. Although, ostensibly, the US is applauding the Egyptian people on achievement of the maiden and free presidential election and has emphasised that Egyptians alone would decide their future, but the history of suspicion towards the Islamists may be hard to overcome. And that prompts the US to back a strong military establishment in Egypt, managing and looking over the civilian counterparts to protect and preserve the American interests therein and the Arab world.
About the author: Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor of Political Science based in India. Click here to mail him.