Pitfalls in Egypt

By Aftandilian, Gregory | Parameters, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

Pitfalls in Egypt


Aftandilian, Gregory, Parameters


Abstract: The US embrace of President Morsi tended to neglect his authoritarian and pro-Muslim Brotherhood policies, angering secular-liberal Egyptians. When the military ousted Morsi with the support of the latter, US officials tried to steer a middle course, but wound up alienating both sides of the divide. This article recommends that the US should continue to use its aid to encourage the new regime to meet its democratic benchmarks and curb its excesses.

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The 3 July 2013 ouster of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi I by the Egyptian military put the United States in a quandary. The J. White House did not wish to endorse a military "coup," which would make a mockery of US democratization policy and alienate the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political organization from which Morsi hailed. US policymakers also did not wish to alienate either the Egyptian military, which it had cultivated and supported for more than three decades, or the country's liberal establishment, which supported the removal of Morsi. American policy vacillated between tacit support and criticism of the new government, especially after its crackdown on Morsi supporters in mid-August, but did not fundamentally change as Washington tried to preserve its equities in Egypt amidst its low standing in the country. In many respects, this most recent episode was symptomatic of US policy toward Egypt since the 2011 revolution and reflects conflicting US policy goals in the Arab world's most populous country. Before examining US policy since Morsi's ouster, it is important to understand why the United States had become so controversial in Egypt before the events of 3 July.

The Morsi Presidency

After Mohamed Morsi was sworn in as president on 30 June 2012, he was visited in July by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in an effort to show support and ensure the bilateral relationship would continue under his leadership. Prior to these visits, the leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, stated: "Egypt will never fall to a certain group ... the armed forces will not allow it." (1) However, Secretary Clinton, right after meeting with Morsi and right before meeting with Tantawi, stated the United States supported Egypt's "full transition to civilian rule" and the return of the military to a "purely national security role." (2)

Morsi then used the occasion of a security incident in the Sinai--the killing of some 16 Egyptian soldiers by extremists on 5 August 2012--to undertake a major restructure of armed forces' leadership. After firing the head of the intelligence service as well as the chiefs of the navy, air force, and air defense command, Morsi forced the two top SCAF officials, Tantawi and army chief of staff Sami Anan, to retire. (3) He picked General Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi, a younger member of the SCAF and head of military intelligence, to be the new Defense Minister. Al-Sissi evidently reached an accord with Morsi of some sort, and the military essentially "returned to the barracks," but probably with the understanding that the new president would not take any further actions against the military. The White House was not alarmed by Morsi's actions because Al-Sissi was well-known to the US military (having studied at the United States Army War College) and official policy was for the Egyptian military to return to the barracks. (4)

Morsi's moves against the SCAF's old guard were welcomed by many of Egypt's young revolutionaries and liberals. (5) However, his other moves were more controversial. He assumed both presidential and legislative powers and took action against some of his media critics. The Shura Council (the upper body of the parliament) replaced the editors of the government-owned newspapers with pro-Brotherhood figures. Many observers believed Morsi was personally involved in this decision. …

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