Despite renewed tensions in U.S.-Egyptian relations—marked by what Washington regarded as tacit Muslim Brotherhood support for boisterous protests outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, as well as President Obama’s off-hand remark that Egypt was not a U.S. “ally”—regional analysts see the two countries continuing to enjoy friendly, if increasingly complex, relations.
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani , last updated: October 01, 2012
Inter Press Service
The wave of unrest in the Middle East caused by blasphemous depictions of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad last month – and events near the U.S. embassy in Cairo in particular – does not appear to have impaired Egypt’s longstanding ‘strategic partnership’ with Washington, say local analysts.
“Recent demonstrations and clashes near the U.S. embassy, and the reaction of Egypt’s new Islamist leadership to those events, has not led to a dramatic shift in Egypt-U.S. relations as had been initially feared,”Tarek Fahmi, political science professor at Cairo University told IPS.
“The relationship is a very deep one and has many dimensions: political, economic, military and otherwise,” Fahmi added. “It won’t be seriously impacted by embassy rallies or one-off statements by officials from either side.”
On Sep. 11, thousands of Egyptian protesters converged on the U.S. embassy in Cairo following the appearance online of a short film mocking Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. At one point, angry demonstrators breached the embassy grounds from which they tore down an American flag.
On the same day, the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed along with three colleagues during a similar anti-film demonstration outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
In Cairo, no members of the U.S. embassy staff were hurt – or threatened with harm – by protesters. Nevertheless, for the next three days, Egyptian demonstrators skirmished with security forces in the area around the embassy, adjacent to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
On Sep. 12, in a move that many saw as a possible sign of shifting regional policy, U.S. President Barack Obama contentiously described Egypt as neither ally nor enemy.
“I don’t think that we would consider them (Egypt) an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy…We are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to, for example, maintaining the peace treaty with Israel,” Obama said in a televised interview.
The following day, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – from which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi hails – issued a statement urging demonstrators to “exercise self-restraint”, and said protection of foreign diplomatic missions in Egypt is “both an Islamic and legal obligation.”
The party went on to voice “total rejection” of any aggression against the U.S. embassy or its staff, while strongly condemning the violence against U.S. diplomats in next door Libya.
While some U.S. officials criticised the FJP for issuing its statement a full two days after the protests began, leading party member Hamdi Hassan defended the move.
“From the outset, the government immediately issued orders forbidding violence against the U.S. embassy,” Hassan told IPS. “The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, also urged the government to pre-empt any aggression against diplomatic missions.”
He went on to blame the embassy clashes on “counter-revolutionary forces that continue to work behind the scenes in Egypt.” These forces, he asserted, “never miss an opportunity to turn peaceful rallies into violent confrontations with the aim of destabilising the country and causing problems for Egypt’s new democratically elected leadership.”
Counter-revolutionary elements, Hassan added, which he said include figures loyal to the former regime, “want to tarnish the image of Egypt’s revolution by making it look like an anti-Western phenomenon, which it is not.” He went on to point out that peaceful anti-film protesters had largely remained in Tahrir Square, “while those clashing with security forces outside the nearby embassy were incited to do so by as-yet-unidentified instigators.”
On Sep. 16, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil stated that several of those arrested during the clashes had confessed to having received money for attacking security forces deployed outside the embassy. Investigations aimed at identifying the instigators, he said, were “ongoing”.
Yet, despite U.S. criticism about the Egyptian government’s handling of the crisis, Fahmi says both countries remain keen to maintain solid bilateral relations.
“Regardless of the recent leadership change in Cairo, Washington still sees Egypt as its principle regional ally,” he said. “The U.S. does not want to see Egypt slip out of its sphere of influence. It would be an enormous blow to U.S. strategic interests in the region if Egypt were to ally itself with other international powers,such as Russia or China. ”
Egypt, for its part, Fahmi added, would be hard pressed to forsake its longstanding military-to-military cooperation with the U.S. – now more than three decades old – since the Egyptian armed forces remain “heavily dependent” on U.S. military hardware. In the event of a serious rupture in relations, he said, “Egypt would be forced to replace its entire military inventory.”
One week after the U.S. embassy debacle, following the publication of offensive depictions of Islam’s prophet in a popular French magazine, Egypt’s main Islamist parties – including the FJP – rejected calls to protest outside the French embassy in Cairo, opting instead to initiate legal action against the publishers of the offensive images.
“Islamist forces learned from their earlier mistake at the U.S. embassy,” said Hassan. “With the knowledge that counter-revolutionary elements are waiting for any opportunity to tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims in the eyes of the West, we’re currently studying alternative means of expressing our opposition besides street rallies and demonstrations.”
According to Fahmi, Washington and Cairo each drew important lessons from the episode.
“The Morsi administration learned that it must take a clear position vis-à-vis Israel and the (Egypt-Israel) Camp David peace treaty, because Egypt-U.S. relations are largely founded on the agreement,” he said.
While Morsi has frequently reiterated Egypt’s commitment to all international treaties to which it is signatory, he has also hinted that the terms of Camp David – which tightly restrict Egypt’s ability to make military deployments in the Sinai Peninsula – could eventually be put before a popular referendum.
Washington, for its part, Fahmi said, “has learned that if it wants to communicate with Egypt, it must deal with the new president, the government and a host of post-revolution political forces.” He added: “The time is over when the U.S. simply issued directives to (ousted president Hosni) Mubarak, who would implement them regardless of the Egyptian popular will.”
In a sign that relations had weathered the storm, Obama reportedly sent a letter to his Egyptian counterpart on Sep. 23 thanking him for securing the U.S. embassy and stressing his desire to maintain Washington’s “strategic partnership” with Cairo.
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani are contributors to Inter Press Service.
Since its founding in 2011, the right-wing advocacy group Secure America Now has made a name for itself by publishing biased, wildly inaccurate “push polls” and running over-the-top ads criticizing the Obama administration’s security policies. “This might be the only ad you'll ever see that complains aloud, 'He shut down the black sites!’” quipped one commentator about an ad the group ran in 2012. The organization recently produced a remake of the infamous Lyndon Johnson ad “Daisy,” which wildly accuses the Obama administration of “failing” to stop “the jihadist government of Iran” from getting “a nuclear bomb.” Noting the many factual errors in a website linked to the video, one observer noted, “It’s not surprising, then, that this group would revive an attack ad that sought to portray a presidential contender as dangerously eager for confrontation to attack a president for being too soft.”
Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz, son of the trailblazing neoconservative ideologue Norman Podhoretz, has been a strident critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, charging the president with “setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos” and calling him an implacable “antagonist” of Israel. He has also been a staunch critic of Hillary Clinton, once penning a book urging right-wing activists to mobilize against her. However, has recently joined other neoconservatives in taking a more conciliatory approach towards Clinton, praising her for supporting “more aggressive efforts” on Syria and Russia than Obama and separating herself from what he terms “the administration’s disdainful treatment of Israel.”
Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who oversaw reconstruction efforts in Iraq for less than a month before being replaced by George W. Bush loyalist Paul Bremer, has broken sharply with his successor over how to respond to the latest ISIS offensive in Iraq. While Bremer has called for boots on the ground, Garner said recently, “The Iranians should solve this problem, not us.” Instead, Garner advocates sending arms to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he served during the first Gulf War and later invested in oil interests.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a bipartisan pressure group that targets corporations that allegedly do business with Tehran in violation of sanctions. A defamation suit filed by the target of one such attack has prompted scrutiny of UANI’s political connections. In a surprise move described by the New York Times as “highly unusual,” the U.S. Justice Department recently intervened to block subpoenas for UANI’s donor list, claiming that it could contain information the U.S. government considered sensitive. Although “American intelligence agencies are prohibited from secretly working with organizations to influence American public opinion and media,” noted the Times, “the court filings indicated close ties between the American government and a group that has proved adept at pressuring the government and corporations to isolate Iran economically.” The news prompted one investigative reporter to uncover ties between UANI’s CEO, Mark Wallace, and billionaire investor Thomas S. Kaplan, both of whom have heavily invested in precious metals mining ventures, which they say could prove extremely profitable in unstable geopolitical environments like the one UANI seems intent on encouraging in the Middle East.
For media inquiries,
or call 202-234-9382.
August, 18 2014
Recent polling reveals a degree of public support for the recent U.S. intervention in Iraq, though a majority of respondents also worried that the U.S. would go "too far" in responding to the threat posed by ISIS.
August, 12 2014
Political settlements in Iraq and Syria—preferably ones that depose Nouri al-Maliki and Bashar al-Assad, respectively—would go much further toward stopping ISIS than airstrikes.
August, 12 2014
Despite repeated insistences that it urged Israel to reduce civilian casualties, the U.S. government has systematically played down Israeli abuses and recited Israeli government talking points about the latest war in Gaza.
August, 09 2014
Inside the Beltway, President Obama’s decision to launch a limited military action in northern Iraq has garnered qualified support from across the political spectrum.
July, 27 2014
The extremist group ISIS has used a Saudi tactic—monopolizing oil revenues—to fund its brutal execution of a Saudi goal: the repression of the Middle East’s Shiites.
July, 23 2014
The latest conflict between Israel and Hamas brings to bear the vast technological superiority of Israeli’s U.S.-backed and U.S.-supplied military.
July, 22 2014
The influence of the International Criminal Court has grown steadily over the years, but the organization remains hampered by opposition from the United States, China, and Russia, as well as by charges that it chiefly prosecutes African leaders at the expense of human rights abusers elsewhere.