The United States faces tremendous challenges balancing the need to support genuine political reform in Egypt with broader regional security interests. The latest developments in Egypt—a chaotic cascade of events that includes the court-ordered dissolution of the recently elected parliament, the issuance of a new addendum to the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration regulations by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the second round of the presidential elections—creates greater uncertainty about Egypt’s political transition at a time when the troubled economic and security environment in Egypt requires greater clarity about who leads the country.
As long as the question of who truly rules Egypt remains unresolved, the country is unlikely to see significant progress in dealing with the enormous challenges ahead. This requires the United States to fundamentally reassess its current policy on Egypt, as the Center for American Progress detailed in its recent paper, “Managing Change in Egypt.” The Obama administration should examine all levers of influence and work with other countries around the world to send the message that the political transition must move forward for Egypt’s government to have legitimacy and the capacity to play a constructive leadership role in the region.
A divided, weak, and undemocratic Egypt is a recipe for even more instability in the Middle East, which is bad for Egypt’s security interests, and bad for U.S. security interests. But on one level, this past week’s political events are par for the course in a transition that began in February 2011. Claims that the fall of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak constituted a “revolution” have always been overstated given the military’s deep and ongoing role in Egyptian political and economic structures. What happened last year was essentially a military coup, and what transpired this week is a reaffirmation of what key elements of Egypt’s security establishment have been saying since Mubarak’s ouster: We are in charge of key aspects of Egypt’s policy, and we won’t give these powers up quickly.
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