Op-ed: US Policy in Egypt Inconsistent and Counterproductive – by Seth Binder and Amrou Kotb

American inconsistent policy has only exacerbated the problems of Egypt’s transition and adversely affected US interests. The US stands a much better chance of serving its interests by articulating and executing policies aligned with its calls for inclusive democracy.

Since Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the United States has promoted stability in Egypt by supporting autocratic regimes. While this stability worked against both the interests of the Egyptian people and US principles of democracy, it allowed the US to serve its strategic interests in Egypt. Frustrated by the Mubarak regime, on January 25, 2011 the Egyptian people struck back at over 30 years of American-supported authoritarianism and took to the streets in mass protest. In the two years that have followed, Egypt’s transition to democracy has been plagued by political turmoil, threatening US interests. Seeking to preserve stability in Egypt, American inconsistency in following its laws and principles has only exacerbated the problems of Egypt’s transition and adversely affected US interests. The US stands a much better chance of serving its interests by consistently articulating and executing policies aligned with its calls for inclusive democracy.

At the onset of Egypt’s revolution, US attempts to support Egypt’s stability were in clear contradiction with its democratic principles. Before Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, Vice President Biden told PBS’s NewsHour that he was not a dictator and that he should not step down. However, a week later, President Obama expressed the need for Mubarak to resign immediately. Contradictions continued in the following years as the draconian measures of both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party were met with minimal chastisement and continued economic and military support.

Following the military’s removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the Obama administration again displayed inconsistency by failing to abide by US law. Section 7008 of the FY 2012 Appropriations Bill requires aid suspension if “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or… decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” Instead, the administration chose to focus on whether or not a coup had taken place, an exercise which, as the law dictates, is unnecessary. Several months later the US responded to the Egyptian military’s violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda and increasing human rights violations by partially suspending military aid.
The administration insisted the reason for the unprecedented suspension of delivery of F-16’s, Apache helicopters, M-1/A-1 tanks, Harpoon missiles, and $260 million in cash assistance was due to concerns over Egypt’s transition to democracy rather than a violation of the coup clause in the FY2012 Appropriations Bill. A senior administration official declared that the US “didn’t make a determination, haven’t made a determination, don’t think [they] need to make a determination” whether it was a coup, but noted they were “acting consistent with the provisions of the law.” More recently, amid growing concern over a weakening alliance, Secretary Kerry traveled to Egypt to meet with government officials; not only did he praise the interim government’s commitment to the transitional roadmap, but he indicated the aid suspension was “not a punishment,” but instead, “a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law,” that, “we’re bound by.”

The United States’ inconsistent rhetoric and policies have strained its relationship with Egypt and harmed its interests in a stable Egypt. Evidence includes insults towards former US Ambassador Anne Patterson and popular conspiracy theories detailing US support for the Muslim Brotherhood or the Armed Forces. Further, Egypt’s has showed an interest in exploring the prospect of partnerships with Russia and solidifying its alliance with Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia. Each of these events is the byproduct of an inconsistent policy that has thwarted progress toward a stable Egypt. The confusing policies have also frustrated regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who criticized the lack of explicit US support for the events of July 3rd.
Regardless of national interests, the administration’s enforcement of the coup clause of the FY 2012 Appropriations Bill would have at least elicited the respect of Egyptians and other regional allies for implementing consistent policy. Instead, the administration was criticized for threatening US national security, losing leverage with an important ally, and betraying principles of democracy. In a speech in May 2011, President Obama acknowledged that “societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.” It is not too late for the administration to assertively re-declare this sentiment and adopt a policy that consistently supports a democratic transition that benefits Egypt, the region, and US interests.

Seth Binder and Amrou Kotb are Master’s students in International Relations at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.



  1. […] the Middle East, Obama has been criticized for inaction, ineffectiveness, inconsistency, and fecklessness. The criticism often envisions American military muscle as the answer. In Syria […]

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