The US fiddles while Egypt's revolution burns

The US fiddles while Egypt's revolution burns
4 min read
27 Jan, 2015
Comment: US foreign policy is hard-nosed realpolitik with an veneer of idealism. It supported Mubarak for 30 years, then acquiesced in the overthrow of Egypt’s fledgling democracy with barely a murmur of objection.
Egyptians protest in New York, but no one in the White House is listening [Getty]
While Egypt was raging with revolutionary fervour in January 2011, Barack Obama's administration mobilised its forces to convince the Egyptian people to stand by President Hosni Mubarak - even though all the signs pointed to the inevitable collapse of his regime.

US public opinion on the other hand, denounced the statements of Vice-President Joe Biden, who described Mubarak as "no dictator".

US public opinion also rallied against the comments of Washington's former envoy to Egypt, Frank G Wisner, who said it was crucial Mubarak stay in office in the interest of regional stability, a sentiment echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who suggested a transitional period that would allow Mubarak to stay on for a number of months.

After increasing public criticism of the Obama administration for its public support of Mubarak, the administration rushed to distance itself from Wisner's comments, announcing he had spoken in a personal capacity.

Check out all of al-Araby's special coverage of the anniversary of Egypt's revolution here

However, it was revealed that Wisner, a former diplomat, was working for a legal consultancy that provided its services to the Egyptian army and government. Wisner was reported by the New York Times to be a close personal friend of Mubarak, while the Washington Post revealed Wisner served on the board of the largest bank in Egypt.

Conundrums of US foreign policy

The US administration faced two problems. The first was its disregard of its own principles of freedom and democracy, and not meeting the expectations of the Egyptians who yearned for these principles to be implemented in their country. The second problem was Wisner's conflict of interest, as he was effectively working as a consultant for the Egyptian government, a grave sin in the eyes of the US public.

The White House's contradictions in its policy towards Egypt was due to Obama uncomfortably balancing idealism and realism, which has been the main feature of his foreign policy. US journalist Fareed Zakaria described Obama as a realist president who focused on US interests and what can be done to further them.
The goal of the revolution was not only to get rid of Mubarak, they also wanted to get rid of the 'deep state' - the roots of Mubarak's regime.

The realism of Obama and his predecessors explains US acceptance of Mubarak's rule for 30 years, even though it discredited US claims to support democracy.

However, facing sustained criticism at home and the vast numbers who came out on the streets against Mubarak, Obama's support for him could no longer be maintained, and one of the US' longest-serving allies in the region was abandoned.

Hours after the coup that deposed then-President Mohammed Morsi on 3 July 2013, Obama expressed his deep concern at the overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected leader and reaffirmed Washington's support for the democratic process and the rule of law.

He instructed the State Department to reconsider financial assistance to Egypt worth more than a billion dollars a year. Obama's statement was directed towards the US people, in a move to affirm the administration's commitment to democracy.

Morsi and Sisi - A vaudeville act dooming Egypt: Read Bilal al-Fadl's commentary here

US historian and author George F Kennan explained the contradictory positions adopted by the US in his book American Diplomacy by referring to the constituencies US politicians are most accountable to - well-connected minority interests and corporate pressure groups - which wield considerable clout.

During the Egyptian revolution, western media did not understand why people remained in public squares even after Mubarak had been overthrown.

They did not understand the people's demands were for the regime to be uprooted in its entirety. The goal of the revolution was not only to get rid of Mubarak and his sons, they also wanted to get rid of the "deep state" - the roots of Mubarak's regime.

Mubarak was toppled, but his deep state could always produce a thousand other dictators like him, or worse. It did, and the man it spawned overthrew the fledgling and embattled democracy that replaced Mubarak's autocracy.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.