March 23, 2012

Status Quo Rules U.S.-Egyptian Relations

Why would a cadre of generals feel threatened when so many perceive the hollow nature of Washington's stick?

After weeks of debate and speculation within the U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is finally prepared to clarify the status of military aid to the Egyptian government. All that's left to be reported, though, is the Secretary's self-defense after Senator Patrick Leahy's office preempted her announcement. Leahy is responsible for the democratic conditions that Clinton is obliged to meet and the national security clause that allows her to waive these standards. Naturally information and disinformation is flowing rapidly in all directions as the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Congress compete for Washington's narrative. One "senior State Department official" informed the press on Thursday, "Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton will certify that Egypt is meeting its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel."

This wording translates into the waiver that Leahy's office received on Thursday, along with an admission that Egypt hasn't progressed with a speed acceptable to its people or Washington itself. Of course U.S. officials will disagree with this assessment, and Clinton has distributed her messengers across both sides of the fence.

"On the democracy side, Egypt has made more progress in 16 months than in the last 60 years," another official said of Clinton's decision. "Yet Egypt's transition to democracy is not yet complete, and more work remains to protect universal rights and freedoms, and the role of NGOs and civil society."

"Business as usual"

The idea that Clinton made the final decision on U.S. military aid is almost as unbelievable as Washington's "support" for Egypt's revolutionaries. Many reports have documented the struggle between the State Department, Pentagon and the defense contractors that middleman Egypt's hardware - and the State Department's eventual defeat. Clinton's officials continue to downplay this outcome by advocating a tiered system and tighter controls, but reality is dominated by the Pentagon's shadow.

The predictability of Clinton's waiver and Washington's inter-department battle is matched by the impending political collateral. The unresolved issue continues to divide America's instruments of power, complicating the formulation of a strategically sound and morally sustainable policy. Leahy himself demands an end to Egypt's emergency law before releasing military funds, putting his party at odds with Cairo's powerful backers. Some individuals accuse the Obama administration of compromising their only solid leverage, when Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and various political actors turned Washington's aid against itself.

Although the SCAF wants its paycheck, the generals are aware that domestic support for conditional U.S. aid hovers in the 20s. They didn't need to cave even if they were solely responsible for raiding over a dozen NGO offices. Now that Washington is caving instead - after the controversial release of foreign NGO employees - Egyptians have a new angle to look negatively upon the American government. Not that the revolutionaries are unaware of Washington's deep collusion with the SCAF, but a chain of perpetuating crises has spread throughout the Obama administration's response to Egypt's revolution.

David Kramer, the president of Freedom House (and thus a symbolic target in the NGO raids), reacted to the latest news by saying that Washington cares, "only about American NGO workers (who were allowed to leave), not about the aspirations of the Egyptian people to build democracy."

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