Keep Egypt in Our Corner

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Recent events in Egypt have undermined the legitimacy and credibility of President Morsi as well as the power of the Muslim Brotherhood to stabilize Egypt. This destabilization began with the passing of the death sentence on 21 individuals involved in the soccer game riot a year ago that left 74 people dead. The ruling has caused intense public violence including an attack on the prison where the 21 convicted individuals are being held. Further clashes between the police and protestors then led President Morsi to declare a state of emergency and a curfew along the entire Suez Canal.  Not surprisingly, the state of emergency has only escalated tensions and led to more clashes between the police and protesters causing more deaths. A particularly volatile clash included protesters throwing petrol bombs at the presidential compound.

This political instability is a major warning for President Morsi. If Morsi does not make some changes to the current state of affairs soon, he may no longer be in power to change them. This sentiment not only comes from calls for his resignation by the protesters but also from subtle hints by General Sisi, the defense minister. Sisi mentioned that there would be serious social, economic, and political consequences if the government collapses. Although it is unlikely that General Sisi would organize a coup, it is possible that someone else within the military might, especially if they hold the same sentiment as Sisi who described the military as the stabilizer for and foundation of the Egyptian state. In other words, it is the organization that will ensure, if necessary, that there is order. What concerns the United States in this particular situation is the direction in which Morsi will take Egypt if he remains in power or how the U.S. relationship could change with the Egyptian government and with its people if Morsi is replaced. In either case, it is concerning to note increased relations with Iran.

The abuse of power by democratically elected President Morsi, as well as a destabilized Egyptian government has serious, negative consequences for U.S. interests in Egypt and in the surrounding region. Egypt is by far the closest Arab ally that the United States has. In addition, Egypt has acted as a stabilizing force in the Middle East in tensions between Israel and other Arab nations. The United States has also benefited greatly from investing in the Egyptian military. For example, the Egyptian military helped considerably during the Gulf War and in the war against Iraq. Egypt is also a critical location in the region that allows overflights or refueling for the United States’ military planes. The United States must ensure continued access to the Suez Canal for military defense reasons and for economic reasons (the transportation of oil). America’s military, and political and economic power are significantly increased by its positive relationship with Egypt and would be significantly hindered in the region if that relationship were undermined.

The current situation has created a dilemma for the United States. The U.S. must support the democratic process; it cannot afford for Egyptians to believe that free democratic elections failed or that Egyptians are not on the path to true democracy, even if there are struggles for continued change. Consequently, this means supporting Morsi’s right to rule at least until he truly commits some egregious crime. At the same time, the United States must not make the protesters feel that the U.S. is backing the undemocratic use of power by Morsi. It was not too long ago that the United States meddled in Iran and propped up a leader that was cruel to the people but favorable to U.S. interests. That scenario put the United States in the current nuclear dilemma it has with Iran today.

The overall approach of the United States towards Egypt must be to stabilize their democratic growth and build a positive relationship with the government in order to maintain U.S. interests in the region. At the same time, the United States must not dictate that progress. Both Morsi and the Egyptian people must do this work for themselves. Any indication that the U.S. is dictating what happens in Egypt would undermine America’s relationship with the people. The actions of the United States must be seen as a helpful hand. To accomplish this, the United States must be transparent about its position in regards to Morsi and the protesters. The White House will need to continue calling for peaceful protests and the use of appropriate executive power.  They have previously made these statements, but as there are more developments, the United States must reaffirm these positions both in public conversations and private ones. It must speak out against violent protests but also against the expulsion of civil liberties.

It is important that America does not seek to undermine President Morsi’s rule. This could backfire by giving more support to anti-American sentiments and a perception that America is against Islam. Therefore, in order to steady the political situation in Egypt, President Obama must continue to create a personal relationship with President Morsi built on equal partnership in order to influence the region for good without condoning violations of basic rights.

In addition, the United States should carefully help Morsi establish rule of law in order to stabilize the government in power while respecting the opposition. For example, the United States can offer legal counsel and instruction in regards to the constitution. The United States should also call upon Egypt to include more people in the actual political process of determining laws and policies. Then, America should use its power to help Egypt secure its $4.8 billion loan from the IMF. In addition to these recommendations, it is important that the police force of Egypt learn responsible actions towards protesters and citizens. The United States can offer police training and help support incentives which are designed to increase the police force and its skill. In the fledgling period of a new democracy, it is important that a nation be able to maintain rule of law without losing control or crossing civil rights lines. The United States can help Morsi best by providing assistance in these areas without dictating his actions. On the same note, the United States can then use these options as leverage if Morsi overextends his presidential power.

Finally, it is important for the United States to help stabilize Egypt’s political situation and Morsi’s rule due to his attempts to normalize relations with Iran. It is apparent that Egypt’s intentions are not to throw its support behind Iran or to blindly follow Iran. Egypt wants to be a regional power. This can be seen by Morsi’s move to attend the non-aligned summit on the situation in Syria hosted by Iran. Although he attended, Morsi strongly condemned Assad for killing civilians and abusing power, and consequently, attacked Iran for supporting Assad.

Nevertheless, the United States must not be blind to this desire to normalize relations with Iran. In effect, as it is important to help the process of democracy succeed and not confirm anti-Islamic perceptions, the U.S. must improve its relationship with Morsi and Egypt in order to counter renewed Iranian-Egyptian relations. It would be unfortunate at this time, as Iran’s satellite ally Syria is crumbling, that Iran gains a new ally from America’s corner.


Troy Tessem

Troy Tessem is a senior at Brigham Young University studying International Relations with an emphasis on the Middle East. A native of Utah, his interests lie in U.S. foreign policy and many facets of security studies. For example, national and human security, civil and international conflict, terrorism, the United Nations, nuclear non-proliferation, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.Troy spent two years living in Norway as a missionary for the LDS Church. It was there that his initial interests in international relations were sparked. He interned as a representative of the NGO "LDS Charities" at the United Nations. Troy's undergraduate capstone analyzes the effect of assassinations on the intensity and duration of civil war. He is a member of BYU's Model UN delegation. After graduation Troy plans on going to graduate school and seeking a position at a think tank that focuses on security issues.

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