The U.S.-Egypt Relationship Needs Therapy, Not a Divorce
Democracy is beautiful; democratic politics is ugly.
Anyone who has sat through an American presidential campaign will nod in knowing agreement at that statement. Egyptians are now learning its truth—and teaching it quite forcefully to the world at the same time.
Elections in Egypt produced an Islamist parliament and, after that was dissolved by the courts, an Islamist president. International actors, the United States foremost among them, then rose to the occasion. Rather than rejection and horror, the Obama administraiton instead tried coping and coaxing. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood reciprocated, working to square the circle on its commitment to the Palestinian cause, to prioritize its commitment to economic reform, and to speak to visiting diplomats and potential investors in the language they liked to hear.
That process went more smoothly than might have been expected, but it has now hit a major speed bump: Egypt’s shaky democracy-in-the-making has not simply produced political leaders who are difficult partners, but also a kind of domestic politics that is characterized by a degree of hyperbole and a range of reckless charges that would make the most shameless robocaller blush.
It’s important to note that Egypt’s domestic political process is actually surviving the rhetorical race to the gutter. A new constitution is being written; civilian control of the military is slowly evolving; and the new president has used his temporary dictatorial powers both sparingly and wisely.
But the country’s foreign relations may have suffered a blow with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The attack itself that will cause problems for Egypt’s diplomacy; foreign audiences that learned to cheer for Egyptian crowds last year will now learn again to fear them. An even greater problem will be caused, however, by the slow and quirky official Egyptian reaction to the violence done by the demonstrators.