If 30 years from now historians study Egyptian-US relations in the wake of the 30 June revolution in Egypt, they will be hard pressed not to use the three words in the title of this article to describe the course the Barack Obama administration has taken in this period. Many observers have accused the Obama administration of confusion in dealing with the situation in Cairo after the overthrow of the former regime.
On the contrary, I believe that the decisions taken by the US administration do not stem from a confused reading of political developments in Egypt, but from a well-studied plan to circumvent the revolutionary aspirations of the majority of Egyptians who demonstrated en masse against the despotic rule of the anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood. A regime that reduced democracy to the well-known formula of all Islamist organisations: one man, one vote, one time.
Throughout the year they ruled the country, there was no mistaking that the policies of the Islamist regime were meant to ensure that the political opposition would never stand a chance of reaching power through the ballot box.
Two major events seemed to escape the attention of the US administration then. The first was the disastrous Constitutional Declaration of 22 November 2012; the second, no less dangerous, was the siege of the High Constitutional Court for weeks last December.
From the last quarter of 2012 till June this year, things turned from bad to worse as far as the democratic exercise of power is concerned. An undemocratic constitution was adopted in a hurry and in the absence of representatives of the opposition as well as the Coptic Church. In this respect, the intimidation of Egyptian Copts went unabated, particularly in Upper Egypt, something successive US administrations used to condemn and use as leverage against the Egyptian government during the Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak eras. I was witness to this myself when I served at the Egyptian embassy from 1979 to 1983.
The silence of the Obama White House in the face of the record of the Brotherhood regime in this respect is strange. Egyptian Copts have found this silence not only disappointing but also disturbing.
Many Egyptians, who wrongly welcomed the public pressure of the White House on Mubarak to relinquish power in February 2011, could not fathom the reasons why the Obama administration turned a blind eye to the growing authoritarianism of the Morsi regime. Those Egyptians thought that the US government was seriously supporting the establishment of a democratic order in Egypt. Their hopes were dashed after the public positions taken by the US administration after 3 July. Surely, they did not welcome these words by President Obama in his remarks to the General Assembly of the United Nations: “And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.”
From 3 July until today, Washington has not stopped admonishing Egypt and the Egyptians on the way the United States wants them to behave in order to receive its benediction as true democrats from the American perspective. Notwithstanding, sanctions have been imposed without qualifying them as such in public. They range from withholding the delivery of F-16 fighter planes, to tanks, to Apache helicopters, to reducing military aid. What is intriguing in the American decisions is that they withhold the delivery of the Apaches, a mainstay of our fight against terrorism in Sinai, and, in the meantime, the US administration says that it will continue cooperating with the Egyptian government in counterinsurgency operations and securing the international borders in Sinai.
Moreover, the administration announced on Thursday, 10 October, that it would review periodically its assistance programme to Egypt, which means implicitly that more sanctions could be imposed in the future. The New York Times, in an editorial published 11 October, said that the sanctions are a warning to Egypt's generals and added that if the Obama administration's reduction in military aid does not work, more cuts may be necessary.
The approach of the White House rests on the assumption that Egypt is witnessing a confrontation between Brotherhood “democrats” and what the American media likes to describe as the “Generals”. Nowhere are the Egyptian people present in the calculations of the US government.
Furthermore, the US administration has, so far, refrained from qualifying the events of 30 June as a revolution. Nor described what happened on 3 July as a coup, lest it will stop US assistance by force of law.
The central question lies in the true intentions of the US administration. I think the ideal situation for the Obama administration will be for the army to withdraw from political life and pave the way for the return of the Muslim Brotherhood through the election of a democratically-elected government. Or, to put it differently, the future of democracy in Egypt, from the American perspective, should not be made at the expense of the Brotherhood.
Personally speaking, I have always believed that the White House under Obama worked for the coming to power of the Muslim Brothers in 2012 in the context of an understanding that the latter would protect American interests in the Middle East and across the Muslim world.
The dilemma that will confront the White House in the near future will be the election of a new Egyptian president who would possibly be inspired by the ideals of the Nasser era. And maybe this is the reason why the Americans insist on an all-inclusive democratic process.