Jon Alterman responds on the "SQL"

Jon Alterman, an prominent Egypt expert who is the director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, felt I treated him unfairly in a recent post when I took a piece he had written in the NYT as an example of the "Status-Quo Lobby" or SQL. For clarification, what I meant by SQL is not Egypt-specific, but the perpetuation of a strategic situation in the region in place since the end of the Cold War at least, and I remained convinced that the notion the SQL is a useful one, separate from that of the Israel lobby.

I appreciate that Jon took the time to write in and am glad to be corrected in my initial interpretation of his NYT article. Here is his letter.


You write that I am part of the “status quo lobby” in Washington on Egypt affairs. I’m not sure from whence the perception comes that such a lobby exists, or why you would think I am a member of it.

There is, of course, a group of lobbyists the Egyptian military pays to push its arguments in Washington. I don’t know anyone not on their payroll who accepts their arguments.

As far as I can tell, there are two principal lobbies in Washington on Egypt: the group that wants this political transition to fail, and those who want it to succeed. On the failure side are those who fear that a more democratic Egypt is a more dangerous Egypt. They see salvation in what they believe to be secular-oriented generals who trust Israelis, distrust Islamists, and have a healthy disdain for the appeals of the Egyptian street. As far as I understand it, they hope that the newly elected government in Egypt will utterly fail to address the country’s problems, discredit itself, and arouse such popular discontent that a coalition of army officers and liberals will be swept into power to right Egypt’s course.

On the success side – the one on which I put myself – are those who see promise in democratic change and in broadening Egyptians’ political participation. The hope is that more robust politics will make for a more resilient Egypt that is more responsive to its citizens.

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