Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Hearts and Minds
This past weekend the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. Clinton discussed a number of issues with Morsi and Tantawi, including the transition of power from military to presidential authority.
The political stalemate in Egypt has grown since the military seized further powers before the presidential election in June. However, the conflict between the President and the Military came to the fore following the SCAF decision to shut down parliament, which was dominated by President Morsi’s allies, before he was officially sworn in. The SCAF further stripped the new president of many of his powers. Since then Egypt has been divided by those who consider the SCAF’s move a de facto coup, and others who believe that the military is the only group capable of protecting the rights of minorities–particularly the Christian community in the country.
In this context, the Secretary of State was unable to make explicit calls for a quick end to the military’s rule, and instead favored language that called for the respect of the rights of minorities. “Democracy is not just about reflecting the will of the majority. It is also about protecting the rights of the minority.”
According to a recent article in the New York Times, a senior official from the State Department said, the intention of the visit was to make clear that the United States supports “a full transition to civilian democratic rule and a constitution that protects the human rights and freedoms of all Egyptians.”
This goal however, was much more difficult to accomplish than was initially expected. A long-time ally of Egypt, the United States has become accustomed to exerting influence over the country, primarily through their provision of military aid. It appears however, that the current military leadership is much more resistant to the influences of the United States—unwilling to sacrifice the power it has been able to secure in recent months.
Meanwhile, the US must tread lightly when trying to push for a more robust democratic transition in the country. Judging from the protestors that pelted water bottles and tomatoes at Mrs. Clinton’s convoy during her visit, many Egyptians are still suspicious of American involvement in domestic affairs. The United States must develop a foreign policy approach with the country that at the same time allows them to pursue their goal of promoting stability in the region, and avoids criticisms blaming the US for meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.