The Bush doctrine and Egypt

Amr Hamzawy, a prolific Egyptian analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, and someone else I don't know called Michael McFaul (a professor at Stanford) have penned an editorial wondering what happened to the Bush doctrine and Egypt. Cutting down to the bottom line:

The major challenge facing the United States in this region is how to help democratize Arab polities and in so doing giving peace, stability, and moderation a chance in the struggle against dictatorship and violence. So it is downright mysterious why American aid to Egypt should continue to flow with no political strings attached.
America could make the linkage very explicit, by putting forward clear benchmarks and timelines on political reform. At a minimum, if Bush were serious about his liberty doctrine, U.S. aid could be restructured to give less to the Egyptian military and more to domestic civil society and to American nongovernmental organizations involved in democracy promotion. Yet, ironically, these organizations are now under siege in Egypt.
Bush's retreat on democracy promotion has implications well beyond Cairo. Autocrats throughout the Middle East are watching. To date, the lesson is obvious: Do a few minor reforms to appease the Americans when they are paying most attention during elections, then roll these reforms back after the vote.
In retrospect, it may have been a better strategy for Bush to not have delivered his second inaugural speech about liberty, but instead quietly pushed for incremental reforms. At this stage, however, the words have already been spoken. Bush must now back them up with real policies that show his commitment to freedom. If he fails in Egypt, he fails throughout the Middle East.
Too bad Hamzawy wasn't making the expert testimonies (almost all against cutting or changing aid) at the recent congressional hearing on the matter. His conclusions are definitely spot on. Whether you care about democracy in the Arab world or not, as an American foreign policy maker you can't afford to just abandon a "doctrine" like that. It'll discredit you in the region and elsewhere. I mean, the Monroe Doctrine (originally America's refusal to let Europeans colonize Latin America, later the perpetuation of America's dominance over Latin America that Chavez is now prying apart) lasted about 180 years before it started falling apart under Bush's guard. His own doctrine -- at least the part about democratizing the Middle East, since the part about unilateralism seems to have already died -- never even got off the ground.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.