POMED brief on Egypt

A report I wrote in the aftermath of last month's parliamentary elections in Egypt for the Project on Middle East Democracy is out. You can get it here.

Written for a US policymaker audience, it takes the recent elections as an alarm signal for Egypt's future, reviews some of the Bush and Obama administrations' approaches to democracy promotion in Egypt and the limited support for more vigorous pressure on Egypt in Washington. Nothing that the latter is not about to change, it makes a few suggestions for steps the US could take in the aftermath of the elections, including downgrading relations with an unrepresentative People's Assembly and more forceful engagement with the Egyptian opposition, including endorsing widely shared goals such as the National Association for Change's six points for reform, and engaging with political actors even if they are outside parliament. In the wake of the Alexandria bombing, it also urges continued American support to address grievances of the Coptic community, such as restrictions on church-building.

While policymakers will look to the recommendations (which I hope are humble and realistic enough to be taken under consideration), there were two further points I was interested in making.

Firstly, that the notion that Obama abandoned a vigorous Bush-era promotion of democracy (an argument often made by neoconservatives) is untrue:

By the time Barack Obama took office in 2009, democratic reform in Egypt had already been relegated to secondary importance. As such, the oft-heard claim that the Obama administration made a radical break with democracy promotion in its Egypt policy is patently untrue. Nonetheless, Obama’s priorities in Egypt have disappointed democracy activists. Initially, the Obama administration downgraded human rights concerns in an effort to repair what it saw as a relationship “damaged” during the Bush years. In the summer of 2009, the U.S. and Egypt initiated a new Strategic Dialogue, thus boosting the bilateral relationship. During these talks, Washington endorsed Cairo’s central role in addressing inter-Palestinian divisions and in mediating with Hamas as part of resolving the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Secondly, that the US-Egypt relationship is largely stuck in an Arab-Israeli framework that is no longer relevant and limits the flexibility of Washington:

The inability of the U.S. government to successfully promote reform underscores the need to more broadly recalibrate the relationship. No U.S. administration in the last two decades has been willing to consider a change in approach to the foundations of Egypt-U.S. relations, most notably the Camp David accords and the accompanying military and economic aid packages to Israel and Egypt. This has remained true despite the fact that, after more than 30 years of peace between Egypt and Israel and increased Egyptian-Israeli security and economic ties, the risk of renewed conflict between the two countries is negligible. Moving beyond the Camp David basis to Egypt-U.S. relations would allow for a fresh start, freeing U.S. policymakers to seek a relationship based on both Egypt’s strategic value to the United States (e.g. Suez Canal and Egyptian overflight and refueling services for the U.S. Air Force) and on democracy and development goals.