No one thought that the relations between Egypt and “Mommy America” would be strained; the contrary was supposed to happen. Relations with Washington were expected to deteriorate when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, not after their ouster.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy confirmed the tense relations between the two countries. Is it a storm in a teacup? The new Egyptian leadership invokes history and the Cold War’s symbols of hostility with the United States by refining the image of former leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Americans did not only criticize Egyptian authorities, they also cut military aid. This is considered a political message and is more important than the financial impact of the move.
The dispute may last for a year, until the end of the legislative elections. The Egyptian presidential elections might be extended and take a lot of time if each party escalates the political conflict. The cut in aid is a big mistake by the Americans because they have offended the personal and patriotic pride in Egypt. It is clear that the Egyptian leadership is criticizing Washington from a wounded stance, which affected their dignity more than their politics. The U.S. government, which started courting Iran and negotiating with the Taliban, is now waging wars against its friends here; Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The U.S. is dealing with Egypt, which is the largest Arab country and is larger than Iran, as if it was a small country.
If the U.S. government had shown some courage in Iraq, as it is doing in Egypt today, it would have probably been able to say that Americans are consistent in their policyAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The region is holding the U.S. accountable for its actions. It believes that Washington is asking Arabs to buy tickets to attend electoral contests, engage in the democratic system and, in the end, Washington will sidestep the consequences.
In Iraq, for example, the United States has conducted the largest operation to establish democracy in the region. It spent millions of dollars for millions of Iraqis to vote with their fingers dyed in purple ink. Thus, a new government was born, however, it was similar to the regime of Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been ruling since 2006, turned into a dictator who runs the whole country from his office. He manages security services, prisons, the army, intelligence services, and the finance system. The parliament and the government no longer have any value. Maliki decides on the oil contracts, arms and state projects. He signs execution decrees and accuses his political opponents to the point that many of them are either dead or fleeing the country to avoid persecution.
If the U.S. government had shown some courage in Iraq, as it is doing in Egypt today, it would have probably been able to say that Americans are consistent in their policy. However, it is actually doing the opposite. In Egypt, the U.S. did not punish the government when the Brotherhood prevented courts from being convened, tried to disable the judiciary, persecuted the media and decided to control the entire regime, not only the government. If Washington was really interested in democracy, it would have demonstrated that through its foreign policy. It is not possible to remain silent regarding the heinous violations of the democratic regime in Iraq, but at the same time pursue Egypt with sanctions.
Of course, this does not save the Egyptian side from being blamed regarding its excessive sensitivity towards Washington’s stance. The American political system does not resemble the Arab political system which is ruled by one single person. In the U.S., the state has more than one voice and decisions are made by multiple parties. The positions of the Congress do not reflect those of the White House, or those of other state institutions and civil society.
This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Oct. 18, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.