No one would have thought that relations between Egypt and “Mother America” would strain. On the contrary, relations with Washington were expected to deteriorate when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, not after their ouster.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy confirmed relations were shaky between the two countries. But is this 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. While Americans did not only criticize the Egyptian authorities, they also cut military aid. The financial impact of this sent a far stronger political message.
The dispute may last for up to a year until the end of Egyptian legislative and presidential elections, and might extend and lengthen if the parties escalate their differences and drift further apart. The one big mistake made by the Americans was to undermine Egypt’s pride in itself, its country, and its government. It is clear that Egyptian leadership is criticizing Washington out of hurt pride more than speaking from a political standpoint. It criticizes a US government which has begun courting Iran and negotiating with the Taliban, yet is waging battles against its friends: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. It criticizes the US dealing with Egypt, the largest Arab country—larger than Iran—as if it were a small country.
The region is holding the US accountable for its actions rather than its words. It believes that Washington is asking Arabs to buy into electoral contests, and engage in the democratic systems yet, in the end, Washington is avoiding bearing the consequences of this.
In Iraq, for example, the United States has conducted its largest operation to establish democracy in the region. Spending millions of dollars for millions of Iraqis to vote, only to give birth to a new dictatorial government, similar to that of Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who has been in power since 2006, has turned into a dictator running the whole country out of his office. He manages security services, prisons, the army, intelligence services, and the financial system. Parliament and the coalition government no longer have any value since Maliki decides on the oil contracts, arms, and state projects. Furthermore, he has signed execution decrees and accused his political opponents to the point that many of them are either dead or fleeing the country to avoid persecution.
If the US government had shown some courage in Iraq, as it is doing in Egypt today, it would have probably been able to say that it is consistent in its policy. However, what it is actually doing is the opposite. The US did not punish the government in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood prevented courts from being convened, tried to disable the judiciary, persecuted the media, and attempted to dominate the entire regime. If Washington was really interested in democracy, it would have demonstrated this in its positions and stances. It does not make sense that it has remained silent regarding the heinous violations of the democratic regime in Iraq, but at the same time pursues Egypt with sanctions after just one year.
Of course, we mustn’t completely absolve Egypt of blame, as it has been excessively sensitive towards Washington’s stance. It must note that the American political system is not like Arab political systems, ruled by one single person. In the US, the country has more than one voice and decisions are made by multiple parties. The positions of the US Congress does not reflect those of the White House, nor those of other state institutions and civil society.