Are We Losing Egypt?

April 11, 2013
by Doug Gavel

Despite the current U.S. and Egyptian administrations’ shared interest in maintaining the close relationship between those two countries, political and social dynamics in post-revolutionary Egypt could make this impossible. That's the upshot of a new paper titled "Losing Egypt," authored by Harvard Kennedy School Associate Professor Tarek Masoud and contained in the new book, “Arab Revolutions and American Policy,” edited by Nicholas Burns, the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations.

Whereas many have feared that the country’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government would pursue an anti-American line, Masoud argues that this is not likely. "It’s not clear that Egypt–a country of 85 million people, a third of whom are illiterate, and whose total gross domestic product is less than half that of Belgium (with only 10 million people)–would ever be in a position to forego the military, economic, and diplomatic benefits of alliance with the United States," Masoud writes. Instead, he argues, a potential rift between the U.S. and Egypt is most likely to emerge as a function of domestic developments in that country that would “render it politically impossible for the United States government to maintain the partnership on its present terms."

Masoud argues that there are two primary sources of potential disruption of relations between Cairo and Washington -- a stalling of Egypt's transition to democracy, and continued abuses against Egypt's minority Christian community.

"If [President] Mohamed Morsi, who currently faces a profound—and, it seems, popular—challenge to his rule falls back on Mubarak-era tactics such as stifling the press, imprisoning regime opponents, and abusing protesters, it will be difficult for the United States to remain indifferent," he writes. Also, Masoud contends, "if [the Christian] community, which has been the subject of abuses in the past, experiences a diminution of its rights or (more likely) its physical security, it will be next to impossible for the Obama administration (or its successors) to resist calls to halt aid to Egypt or even impose harsher penalties against Cairo."

Though the United States appears to have attempted to establish a partnership with the current Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government, Masoud argues that the United States has a strong interest in the development of political pluralism in Egypt, even if such pluralism comes at the expense of transactional ease in the short term.

"[S]everal Egyptian writers have suggested the United States is hardwired to prefer to deal with a single actor when it comes to Egypt—be it Mubarak, the SCAF, or the Muslim Brotherhood," he concludes. "It’s impossible to know whether this last charge is true. But what is true is that as long as the U.S. focuses its attentions on the Brotherhood to the exclusion of its opponents, it may win over the Islamists, but it will almost certainly lose Egypt."

Print print | Email email
Associate Professor Tarek Masoud

Associate Professor Tarek Masoud

"If [President] Mohamed Morsi, who currently faces a profound—and, it seems, popular—challenge to his rule falls back on Mubarak-era tactics such as stifling the press, imprisoning regime opponents, and abusing protesters, it will be difficult for the United States to remain indifferent," Masoud writes.