The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Gulf and US Strategy on Egypt After Morsi

The Egyptian military certainly timed its actions well in the international situation, whether it did so deliberately or not. The only powers that might mourn Morsi's departure are both consumed by domestic issues right now: in Qatar, a leadership transition between the emir and his son and in Turkey, a not-dissimilar resentment over the leading Islamist party's broken promises and street brutality. And compared to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which welcome the development, neither is truly significant. That leaves the US in a very difficult situation, especially in light of the arrests and media bans now being enacted against Islamists and calls to recognize what has occurred this past week as a coup, which would put military aid to Egypt under review and then, suspension.

The latter happening is quite unlikely, though. The Brotherhood's own actions while in power, including putting US nonprofit workers on trial in absentia, did not lead to a halt in aid, and it will be a year before Congress can again push for such a course because the 2013 payments have been disbursed. The powerful images of mass demonstrations in support of the military's actions, and the triumvirate of Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Coptic Pope Tawadros II, and liberal Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei presenting a "roadmap" for the next few months - will all strongly argue against the use of the coup label in official Washington. In diplomatic and military spheres, what matters is that the new arrangement puts firmly back in the saddle men whom the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have always felt most comfortable doing business with and removes the Brothers, who never really "proved" themselves to these countries' leaders - or for that matter, the crowds in Egypt itself.

Qatar's star in particular has become tarnished throughout the Middle East, limiting what influence it held in Egypt through its financial largesse and waning media clout in the Arab world. The US' repeated efforts to take greater charge in arming Syrian rebels shows the deepening mistrust between the two countries. Content to use Doha as a venue to organize opposition councils, the US is now committed to managing the weapons deliveries through other proxies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, or directly. A now much less-trusted Qatari partner has nothing to badger the US or Saudis with over Egypt, and in fact the new emir and his new prime minister both publicly congratulated the new interim president, Adly Mansour - though this is probably of no more real consequence than when Saudi and Emirati leaders first congratulated the Brotherhood on its electoral triumph last year.

Meanwhile, the US' important security partners, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are gleeful at Morsi's removal - the Saudi response arrived quickly from the King himself, to "strongly shake hands" with the military. The Emiratis pronounced themselves pleased, too, following "with satisfaction" the ouster of Morsi. Dislike of the Brotherhood is the primary issue for Riyadh, but Saudi Arabia must be further gladdened to see Morsi go after he rhetorically aligned himself with the sort of salafists who are no friends of the House of Saud by calling for jihad in Syria. This announcement comes on the heels of the prison sentencing in the country ofseveral dozen members of an Islamist organization in the country, representing a stinging rebuke to "Brotherhoodism" in the Gulf. The response from both nations, which are on the frontline of the US military aspect of Iran containment, will make it quite hard to the US to take a stand on principle if it wanted to do so.

Closer to events on the ground, Israel is not unhappy to see Morsi go, and will probably refrain from making loud noises about his departure (unlike Mubarak's departure). The deep state of the military, foreign ministry, and GIS have maintained professional and personal relationships far deeper than the "formal" diplomatic and economic ties the two countries have, and is already beingcited by US commentators as justification to not link the Army's actions today to the US$1.3 billion aid payments. And finally, while Hamas has nothing to gain from this turn - indeed, things seem to be getting worse for Gaza already - it was hardly gaining anything from Egypt at present, given Morsi's own crackdown on smuggling and order for Gaza's tunnels to be flooded with sewerage. What chance that extended Islamist rule might move Egypt towards closer collaboration with Qatar and Turkey on Gaza by replacing the old guard in the Egyptian bureaucracy is now surely dashed for the movement.

So with Saudi Arabia and the UAE visibly pleased by the coup, and Israel unlikely to complain in private about developments, what is the US to do?

Given the reluctance of the Obama administration to answer questions about whether a coup has occurred some sort of interim rationale will have to be invoked, though given the general animus towards Morsi in Congress over his Islamist politics and treatment of foreign-funded NGOs, this may not be long in coming. Those deep state bodies that US policymakers are perhaps the most comfortable dealing with have preserved many of their continuities of personnel and policy from the Mubarak era.

While the US revoked Mali's military aid in the wake of the spring 2012 coup there, Mali was simply one of several countries involved in a relatively low-priority counterterrorism program. Egypt, in contrast, is the lynchpin of the post-1973 Middle East peace between Israel and the Arab states - the nature of the aid package aid in question is simply incomparable to Mali's, both politically and financially, or any other ally the US has suspended aid to in recent years. The fact that the salvation front is working a built-in an expiration date into their current activities will surely enable the Administration to continue business as usual with the people they'd always preferred to negotiate with, the security services. Diplomats - and the sight of the US Ambassador meeting with high level Brothers recently came off as remarkably tone-deaf to Cairene protestors - speak their own language, but the dialects are often mutually unintelligible. No such barriers exist among security services, whatever their stars, crescents, and/or stripes.

And as a friend points out, Obama's official comment on the events of this week says that the U.S. calls for the restoration of "a democratically elected government," not "the democratically-elected government," despite his administration's past willingness to give Morsi the benefit of the doubt over Congressional, Saudi, and Israeli complaints. This choice of articles is not exactly reason enough to say the US has written off the Muslim Brotherhood, but enough to say that few will miss them even if arrests of prominentIslamists continue and pro-Morsi channels like Al Jazeera Arabic and Egypt25 are kept shuttered.

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