The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

New Carnegie report on Egypt and US policy

This new Carnegie Endowment report on Egypt by Michele Dunne (editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin and former State Dept. diplomat in Egypt, among other things) has gotten quite a lot of attention in the Egyptian press because it focuses on the succession issue in Egypt, its link to the ongoing (flawed) political reform initiatives and the apparent grooming of Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father:

The Constitutional amendments proposed by the NDP are intimately linked to the positioning of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who has risen gradually over the past decade to become Deputy Secretary General of the NDP and the party’s likely candidate in the next presidential election. Over the past several years Gamal Mubarak has made economic and political reform his signature issues, and in fact he previewed most of the new initiatives announced recently by the president at the annual party conference in September. He also made news by advocating a nuclear energy program and a more assertive Egyptian regional role in order to counter U.S. influence. These attention-getting statements—along with a notably humbler, more populist tone in his rhetoric about the need to translate economic reform into real benefits for poor Egyptians—appeared to be an effort to show Gamal’s responsiveness to the concerns of Egyptian citizens and to demonstrate his growing mastery of national security issues. Domestic political and economic reform took center stage, however, in NDP proposals for legislation in the parliament.

The report actually does not offer any decisive take on Gamal, which is wise (I personally believe in a Gamal scenario less and less.)

Dunne's report offers an overview of the major amendments proposed by the NDP and the demands made by the opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In its recommendations on US policy on Egypt, it urges Washington to support widespread opposition demand for term limits and the amendment of Article 77. Funnily enough -- and probably no coincidence -- today's state newspaper headlines are all about Mubarak categorically refusing to amend Article 77 on the grounds that "the people decide to choose their president" and that other "big countries" also have no term limits.

I have only had time to skim the report, but I find the section on recommendations to US foreign policymakers the most interesting because Dunne is a former policy insider (she advised Rice and Bush on Egypt in 2000-2002, I believe) and an established "Egypt hand" who has been working on the problems of the US-Egypt relationship for a long time. Here are a few:

Freedom for parties: The United States should support the demand of parties for a more open and straightforward licensing system—one in which the NDP cannot strangle nascent rivals in the cradle—and should protest regime interference in party affairs. Only with such changes would the NDP initiative to shift to a proportional representation system give parties with a small base of support (which means all parties except the NDP and the illegal Brotherhood) a real chance at parliamentary representation. Regarding the Brotherhood, there is as yet no clear consensus on how it can be fully enfranchised without threatening stability, and it is not up to the United States to resolve this conundrum. Washington should, however, encourage Egypt to continue opening the political system so that a solution can emerge over time.

Electoral supervision: It is extremely important that the gains made in 2005 be built upon and not reversed. Although the creation of a truly independent and capable electoral commission is desirable, it probably is not feasible at present, and so the United States should support the calls of Egyptian judges for continued extensive involvement in electoral supervision for the time being.
And perhaps most interesting:

the single most important thing the United States can do to promote political reform in Egypt is to pay consistent attention to the subject. Direct engagement should primarily take place through private dialogue with the Egyptian government and continued assistance to governmental and nongovernmental entities. The United States can have a significant effect on opposition and civil society activists in Egypt despite widespread anger at many aspects of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
It seems to me that is a polite of way of saying that US policy towards Egypt has been, in recent years, hesitant and incoherent, if not outright contradictory. The difference between 2002-2004 and post-2004 is particularly striking, and it's not only the changing of ambassadors.