Washington, D.C. – Today, as activists once again gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Center for American Progress released a report exploring how the United States should prepare for a strategic shift on policy toward Egypt. Thus far, the United States has adopted a cautious and often unclear policy in reaction to the past year’s tumultuous events in Egypt, but the current U.S. posture on Egypt is not sustainable in the long term.
The events of the past two and a half years make it clear that autopilot will not achieve U.S. policy objectives for a stable, prosperous, and free Egypt. U.S. policymakers should take this opportunity to evaluate and prepare two major options: a much larger and more positive incentive track and a more serious coercive track. Policymakers should also seek to make U.S. policy more flexible and able to respond to future contingencies.
“Egypt remains in the middle of a complicated transition, and it is unclear whether its leaders and people will come together to tackle the country’s mounting economic and social problems,” said Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report. “The United States should stand ready to help Egypt, but only if it takes constructive steps toward building a more inclusive and pluralistic government that respects the basic rights of all Egyptians. If the recent negative trends continue, the United States may need to rethink its overall policy on Egypt and its regional security strategy.”
“The United States cannot unilaterally shape the trajectory of political change in Egypt. That will, quite obviously, primarily be a job for Egyptians,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and co-author of the report. “But the United States can present clearly to the Egyptian authorities and the Egyptian people the types of serious support that the United States is willing to commit, in coordination with allies, if Egypt manages to establish a credible civilian-led process of democratization. That is a process that will take time and U.S. policy should now be updated to reflect those changed circumstances. Now is an opportunity to recalibrate U.S. policy and to prepare for a wide variety of potential outcomes.”
The report identifies two paths forward for U.S. policy toward Egypt:
Plan 1: Offer a new bilateral partnership with positive incentives.
- Expand economic ties aimed at boosting economic growth and integrating Egypt into the global economy.
- Focus diplomatic efforts on countries already making major investments in Egypt’s transition.
- Reform U.S. security assistance to Egypt.
Plan 2: Prepare for the worst contingencies.
- Fundamentally rewrite regional security strategy to account for a less reliable partner in Egypt.
- Plan for the potential for partial progress toward transitional goals.
- Undertake a thorough review of the core objectives of the security assistance program and its relationship to democratization.
Clearly, the first plan is preferable to the alternative of downgrading ties with Egypt. The United States could continue to avoid a strategic shift in its policy described above and seek instead to muddle through in reaction to events in the coming year in Egypt, but this approach has not served to advance U.S. interests and values.
Read the report: Preparing for a Strategic Shift on U.S. Policy Toward Egypt by Brian Katulis and Michael Wahid Hanna
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