Egypt still remains the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The relationship now seems to be going through somewhat turbulent and tense times, however the overall relations have not seriously departed from the previous norms of the Mubarak era. Though this is the case now, the future is still unclear.
Currently the US administration is undecided whether to continue financially supporting Egypt and its democratic transition, as promised by president Obama earlier this year, with 450 million US dollars in aid pending. The chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations in congress is currently withholding the sum.
While many Egyptians are not huge enthusiasts of American foreign aid, it would seem more befitting for a continued smooth relationship that the US does go ahead with its financial support, or does the US only support dictators but finds rising democracies to be disturbing?
From my own personal encounters with members of the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi Al-Nour Party, I can confidently say that they have absolutely no desire for confrontation, but rather are committed to keep the relations smooth with the US.
People in congress who are holding this money should understand that the US foreign policy can no longer continue to function the way it did under Mubarak. As in any thriving atmosphere of freedom, political correctness cannot be expected from street politics. Thus the embassy incident over the abusive amateur film, which has been condemned by all, cannot be allowed to dictate how the two states relate.
So far it seems that the ruling Islamist elite has been quite pragmatic and flexible in wishing to continue positive relations with the US; even given the US’s appalling record of supporting the regime that oppressed Egypt for decades till the very last days.
Furthermore US implicit support of continuing and exacerbating Israeli violations to international law and human rights cannot be overlooked. The US State Department seems to be holding a grudge over Egypt for not having the warmth Mubarak and his constituents had for Israel.
For Egypt to do as Mubarak does not make any sense, and if President Morsy and his government wish to keep their legitimacy they will not compromise their coldness. Israel has isolated itself by its acts. Israel still occupies Arab land, still besieges Gaza illegally, not so long ago committing a massacre with internationally prohibited weapons.
The West Bank has been divided by apartheid like walls that are humiliating and inhumane. The Israeli government kicks people out of their homes, demolishes others, and makes new settlements in whatever is left of the West Bank. Still zealot Zionists vandalise and desecrate the third most revered holy place in Islam; Al Aqsa Mosque, even Churches in Jerusalem have not been spared from harm.
All of this is happening frequently in front of Egyptians in television and radio news and with more gruesome details in social media. The US simply cannot pressure Egypt on this front. There is nothing Egypt can do as long as Israel continues to be on the path it takes. Obviously US politicians have tried pressuring the Egyptian government into meeting with Israeli officials but with no avail.
The previous relationship between the US and Egypt was that of a patron and a client, a superior and a subordinate. This is no longer the case and the newly formed Egyptian regime no longer finds the US a cornerstone for its survival or a crucial platform provider for its global legitimacy. Thus the Egyptian options for alternative relations with other powerful nation states are viable and will continue to grow, just like any country that seeks its national interest.
If the US foreign policy towards Egypt becomes harsh, Egypt can always align itself more closely with other powers, which will create further instability in the region. So far it seems in the best interest of both parties that Egypt pursues a balanced foreign policy including that with the US.
It seems more than ever that the ball is in the court of the US’s political playground. The US administration may not want to mention the past, like Joe Biden refusing to call Mubarak a dictator when the revolution first started, or when Hilary Clinton once referred to Mubarak and his wife as “friends of my family” and apologise for such remarks. However it would seem like a positive gesture to continue the financial aid and not let the new setting reduce positive diplomatic relations.
The writer is a columnist at the Egypt-based Daily News, where this article was published on Oct. 7, 2012