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Is America working against its own interests in Egypt?

January 27, 2014 at 2:07 pm

For the first time since the coup, the US administration has taken a clear position towards the situation in Egypt. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the army is “restoring democracy”, which means that he backs the military action very clearly.

Kerry’s declaration came amid increasing tension in Egypt, as ousted President Morsi’s supporters insist on continuing their protests until “the legitimate elected president” is returned to his position. The new-old regime, meanwhile, insists that “history will not go backward”.

Kerry’s stance came one day after the Information Minister in the army-backed government declared that the cabinet had delegated to the interior ministry the task of bringing the pro-Morsi protests to an end because they “threaten Egyptian national security”. That is, of course, debateable. Nevertheless, the crucial debate is whether or not Washington’s new position is useful for America’s interests.

Ever since 9/11, American think tanks and government departments have sought answers for “why the Arabs and Muslims hate us”. Many studies and polls show that one of the main reasons for Arab and Muslim’s anger against the United State is related to American support for dictators and tyranny in the Middle East. After Kerry’s declaration, one can deduce that US policymakers have not learnt much from past mistakes.

By backing the coup in Egypt, the US has sent the wrong message, not only to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but also to supporters of democratic transition in the Arab World: America will only support democracy in the Middle East if it brings US allies to power. Some will accept the US argument that Morsi failed to build a consensus with his policies, which is true. But it is also true that all Egyptian parties and factions are responsible to some extent for this failure. Moreover, 100 per cent consensus is not the norm in democracies. Even Americans are deeply divided on many issues, but there is only one way to deal with such divisions and polarity in a democracy, and that is through the ballot box, not military coups.

In the past, America has faced violent reactions to its foreign policy from jihadist groups; now, however, its policy in Egypt is likely to put it against “mainstream Islamists” and all supporters of a democratic transition in the Arab world. The new American role in Egypt demonstrates that the US appears to be incapable of learning from its mistakes and cannot understand the change in the popular mood in the so-called Arab Spring. Washington may well be working against its own interests in Egypt.

The author is a researcher in Middle Eastern Affairs

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.