Foreign Policy Blogs

U.S. Supports Mubarak…Transition

U.S. Supports Mubarak…Transition
It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the U.S. role in dealing with the crisis in Egypt. It’s clear that the U.S. was taken by surprise by the pace of events. Sure, Tunisia was a warning, but Egypt is not Tunisia and few expected revolution in Egypt. At the outset, the Obama team took a cautious approach, offering words of support for our longtime ally and at the same time supporting the human rights of the protesters. Up to this point, the U.S. role as an ally was to recommend and advise (perhaps even cajole) Egypt into expanding the scope and pace of democratic reform, but always with respect for the fact that the leaders of Egypt had their own timetable for reform. Egypt has been an ally for decades and we share similar goals and have common interests in a stable Middle East. We always valued the strategic relationship with Egypt more than Egypt as a model of democratic reform.

I was initially encouraged by this approach. I didn’t want to see the U.S. act like a fickle ally and a fair-weather friend. But the tension between supporting Mubarak and the protesters was obvious to all and clearly not a sustainable policy. Even as Mubarak made some initial moves in the reform direction it was clear that it would not be enough and the U.S. started to signal a change in attitude from qualified support for Mubarak toward support for a transition in power. By the time President Obama sent a special envoy (a past U.S. ambassador) to Cairo to convey this change Mubarak clearly saw that his tenure was nearing an end. His dramatic announcement yesterday that he will not stand for re-election demonstrated to the U.S. that he gets it. Sadly, that’s not a sentiment shared by the thousands of demonstrators in Tahrir Square. As the protests continued they generated a feedback loop of rising expectations, fueling a perhaps misguided sense of imminent change. In that light, Mubarak’s announcement appears to be too little too late. Events are moving quickly now and I’d like to recommend the following resource to help keep you informed. The Council on Foreign Relations has compiled an issue guide with links to analysis and informed opinion.

So what next in the power transition in Egypt? Should we be fearful or hopeful? We have an interest in building a stable foundation for civil society so that the emergent democratic culture shares our values. While it’s true that America supports democracy, we support democracy that values human rights and human liberty. Democracy is merely a process, not a panacea. And as this blog post from Democracy Digest reminds us, we would do well not to interfere in the selection process of whatever interim government emerges in Egypt, even if we have concerns about the rise of an Islamic state. If we find ourselves confronted with a government opposed to American interests then we can deal with honest differences in an open, and hopefully diplomatic, manner. If our experience in the region has taught us anything, it’s that the attempt to rig the system only generates a more powerful opposition. And who knows, perhaps Egypt will surprise us all.

Photo Credit: Khalil Hamra/Associated Press


Joel Davis

Joel Davis is the Director of Online Services at the International Studies Association in Tucson, Arizona. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, where he received his B.A. in Political Science and Master's degree in International Relations. He has lived in the UK, Italy and Eritrea, and his travels have taken him to Canada, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Greece.

Follow U.S. Role on Twitter: @FPAUSRole
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joeladavis

Areas of Focus:
State Department; Diplomacy; US Aid; and Alliances.

Contact Joel by e-mail at [email protected]