Obama’s failed Egypt policy

The Obama Administration continues to pursue a contradictory, inconsistent policy toward Egypt, as evidenced by President Obama’s August 15 remarks that said nothing about public order and the rule of law. This sows confusion around the world. The U.S. must do better not only in messaging, but in consistent action.

Obama’s biggest mistake is to focus on individual people and the seats they fill rather than American values and interests. In the case of Egypt, this means that for the past two years the Administration has focused on the office of the presidency, be it Mubarak or Morsi. It has focused on the procedures that brought the latter to office as the basis for legitimacy rather than the anti-American, anti-Western policies that Morsi endorsed.

Obama’s failing foreign policy blends the theatrical rhetoric with a myopia about foreign leaders. This approach began with the “open hand” to Iran and a “reset” with Russia. It hurts the U.S. and it destabilizes world affairs.

No one can blame Egyptians, or Arabs and their neighbors more generally, for being utterly confused by Obama’s approach to Middle East democracy. Obama gave a lofty speech in Cairo in 2009, just after taking office, but did not provide even rhetorical support for Iranian democracy activists just weeks later. Democracy proponents throughout the Mahgreb and Near East feel largely abandoned. In Egypt, the administration supported the election result that brought Morsi to office, but refused to hold Morsi accountable for the rash of violence against minorities, mafia-style political patronage, elevating
terrorists to high government positions, and a midnight re-writing of the Egyptian constitution that sidelined the non-Islamist majority. Through it all, the administration backed Morsi as sainted by an election.

The way to get U.S. policy toward Egypt — and toward the world — back on track is to focus less on the who and more on the what: American ideals and interests.

In the case of Egypt, American interests include a normal regime in Cairo that does not breed regional instability and an Egyptian security posture that does not unravel the successful cold peace of Camp David. It means Egyptian leadership that does not protect or justify Islamist ideologies that call for violence and repression of their citizens and neighbors. It means an Egypt that is an anchor of Middle East security, not a threat to it.

The U.S. values, first and foremost, the rule of law, which is is the real foundation of democracy, not elections. A look at Zimbabwe provides a case in point. The rule of law undergirds the expression of human rights and the political rights of citizens, and sadly, the Morsi regime eroded the respect citizens had for the rule of law and their government. The U.S. also values the fundamental rights of all citizens, regardless of their faith tradition, sex, or ethnicity. The Morsi regime was quickly and inexorably creating two classes of Egyptians: those who preferred a fundamentalist form of Islam, and everyone else.

Many of us had hoped that the ouster of Morsi and the ascendance of Egyptian leaders from across the political, security, and business sectors could result in a stabilization of Egyptian political life. But the destabilizing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, plus the heavy-handed violence of security forces this week make that a distant hope.

Nonetheless, what is clear is that that the Obama administration has played little useful role in all of this.