For Obama, it’s about Egypt not Mursi

Joyce Karam

Published: Updated:

Even though ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi will not be missed by either U.S. policymakers or the American public, the aftermath of his ouster partly through a military coup can prove thorny for the administration to manage as it tries to sustain the aid flow to Egypt, and work towards an inclusive transition.

Mursi, although a USC alumni, did not charm Americans or U.S. policymakers. Calling Jews “apes and pigs” guaranteed a rough start, then came his executive orders, the judiciary control, threatening comedians and journalists, favoring the Muslim Brotherhood in cabinet formation and instituting a flawed constitution. All of which did not resonate well in Washington, and U.S. repeatedly asked Mursi to pursue dialogue with the opposition, and seek amendments to the constitution. He did not heed these calls until one hour before his ouster, when he posted on his facebook that he agrees to a coalition government. Too little, too late.

Pragmatic Friendship

For the U.S., Mursi was never the first choice for the Presidency. But pragmatism, regional stability and the core value of accepting democratically elected leaders, drove the Obama administration towards embracing his government and doing business with him. While Mursi’s role proved pivotal in achieving a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel last November, all that political goodwill was squandered afterwards in the Brotherhood’s power grab, and Mursi granting himself unprecedented executive mandate. Obama and Mursi went from talking six times during the Gaza war, to a smooth break up. The White House distanced Obama from Egypt’s President and canceled his visit to Washington last December.

Mursi’s ouster provides the administration with an opportunity in Egypt, to turn the page on a twisted transition that the Brotherhood was driving despite public outrage.

Joyce Karam

In fact, Obama and Mursi never got to meet as protests picked up in Egypt, reaching a record of 9427 protests according to the Wilson center, and that was before the culminating “Tamarod” movement of June 30th, attracting millions, and leading to Mursi’s ouster.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration was not keen about a military coup to force him out. According to CNN, the administration warned the Egyptian military “that it risks losing U.S. aid if it carries out a military coup amid the political crisis.” The aid totals 1.3 billion a year and according to U.S. law it can be cut off if “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’e´tat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” The Obama administration, however, has refrained from using the word “coup” in describing the events, and the U.S. President directed “the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt. “

Aftermath Concerns

In his statement on Egypt, Obama makes only three mentions of Mursi, one to avoid his arbitrary arrest, and the other two to hear and include his supporters in a transition “back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process.” U.S. concerns are less about Mursi, and more about Egypt making the leap forward towards democratization, strengthening civil society, and not turning to another Algeria after the military ousted of another Muslim Brotherhood government in 1992.

But Egypt is not Algeria, and indications on the street point to a robust civil society presence, and a genuine desire on part of all segments of society to be part of the democratic process. Also the Middle East is nowhere today where it was in the early nineties, and the Arab Spring is forcing even the most authoritarian rulers to reconsider their policies.

The U.S. congress has not passed a final verdict on military aid to Egypt. Some influential members such as Ed. Royce, the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed Mursi’s removal and saw in it an opportunity that “will reopen the path to a better future for Egypt.” For that to happen, however, a more pro-active U.S. policy is required. One that looks at Egypt beyond the stability and security framework and is invested diplomatically in helping the opposition, the Brotherhood, and the military move towards holding new elections and reaching a power sharing agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent much of last week between Ramallah and Jerusalem in his attempt to relaunch direct talks. The Peace Process is important but the situation in Egypt was more urgent and consequential for the region. As U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson prepares to leave Egypt, the administration cannot afford waiting too long for her replacement.

Mursi’s ouster provides the administration with an opportunity in Egypt, to turn the page on a twisted transition that the Brotherhood was driving despite public outrage. It offers a new beginning towards an inclusive path that empowers civil society and the rule of law, and in charting a new model for Egypt and the region as all eyes once again turn to Cairo.

Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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