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Omitted words in US-Egypt crisis

The US decision to suspend a delivery of jet fighters and tanks to Egypt made its position on Morsi's removal very clear. However, cutting off all military assistance is unlikely as it would jeopardise US relations with Egypt

Mohamed Elmenshawy , Wednesday 30 Oct 2013

“Inclusive democracy” is a phrase Egyptian officials and so-called experts on US affairs choose to ignore.

The reason why the interim government and its supporters fail to mention the US position, namely that Washington is disturbed by the complete exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) from the political scene since the overthrow of the president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, is unknown.

When State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on 9 October announced the suspension of deliveries of weapons such as jet fighters, missiles and tanks to Egypt, she made the US position very clear. She used phrases such as “Egypt will be stronger when it is represented by a democratically elected inclusive civilian government,” and the US will suspend the delivery of some weapons and technical assistance to the government until “reliable progress is made on establishing a democratically elected inclusive government.”

A third time she said the US and Egypt have a long partnership and many common interests, including “encouraging the creation of a stable and prosperous and inclusive Egypt, without exclusions.” This implies Washington is very disturbed by what it views as the security, legal, financial and political exclusion of the Brotherhood.

US President Barack Obama emphasised to the UN General Assembly last month the concept of a “democracy that includes everyone.” After criticising Morsi’s record in power, he said: “The interim government that replaced him in response to demands by millions of Egyptians who believe the revolution took a wrong turn, has also taken decisions that do not comply with overall democracy by adopting Emergency Law and imposing restrictions on the media, civil society and opposition parties.” He reiterated that the US’s support would depend on “how far Egypt goes on the path of democracy.”

Key circles in the US believe the determined exclusion of the Brotherhood from Egyptian politics is delusional since it and its Islamist allies gained control of parliament and the presidency in free elections supervised by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Washington also believes its exclusion from politics, the freezing of its assets and mass arrests alongside frequent bloodshed on the streets, paves the way for a constant state of “instability.” This contradicts its primary goal of creating a stable Egypt. 

As well as failing to report the truth about the US position, there is a general trend in Egypt of claiming continued military assistance is linked to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Also, that halting assistance is a violation of the treaty signed in 1979. Anyone who has read the articles of the treaty knows there is no clause that obligates Washington to give assistance to either Cairo or even Tel Aviv.

This gives rise to the question of why Egypt receives this assistance. The answer came in a statement by Psaki who said, “The US is not obligated by the Camp David Treaty to give assistance to Egypt, but it provides this assistance because they serve the US’s national interest in a critical and volatile region.”

The Obama Administration avoided describing what happened in Egypt as a military coup, but it is behaving as if it were through increasingly punitive measures. Although Obama realises that “assistance to Egypt will not change what the interim government did or is doing,” Obama told CNN on 23 August that “relations will not be restored to how they were because of what happened.”

He also called for a comprehensive overhaul of relations with Egypt, but revising relations raises three very important issues.

First, how in August 2012 Pentagon leaders welcomed the fact that American trained officers reached the pinnacle of the Egyptian army, including General Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi and General Sedki Sobhi, who both graduated from the US Army War College in Pennsylvania. It would be difficult for many in the Pentagon to penalise the first leadership that understands American military doctrine and has broad relations and knowledge of US military institution.

A senior official at the US Department of Defence told me: “What happened on 3 July came as a big shock for the Pentagon and a source of great embarrassment because American trained officers carried out a coup against an elected president.” Washington is therefore ignoring this embarrassment and choosing to only focus on condemning the violence.

Second, many in Washington realise that the assistance package largely protects Washington’s influence in Egypt, although it has diminished. At the same time, it maintains its interests in the Suez Canal, Egyptian airspace, and intelligence cooperation. Although the Egyptian army does not always agree with Washington’s suggestions, losing links and contacts with Egyptian officers would be a serious loss for the US.

Third, although Washington sent many signals to the new regime in Egypt to abandon a security solution to resolve the political problems in Egypt and repeated calls for a political solution that includes everyone, the Egyptian army still insists on moving in the opposite direction from Washington’s advice by only relying on a security clampdown that Washington believes will harm the future of stability in Egypt, as well as US interests. Obama does not know how to apply more pressure than this without losing the Egyptian ally.

US threats to cut off all military assistance are unrealistic. Washington will not easily sacrifice the rulers of Egypt, and will only take this step if Egypt crosses real red lines that Washington has not defined – other than if Cairo annuls the peace treaty with Israel.




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