Best Defense

Playing catch-up ball: 5 steps the U.S. should consider taking with Egypt

Here’s are some recommendations by an Egyptian friend of mine who writes a good blog, Underreported, about the media and the Middle East. You might want to bookmark that. By Yasser El-Shimy Best Defense Cairo bureau chief The Obama administration has consistently chosen to overlook all the signs pointing to imminent instability in Egypt. The ...

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s are some recommendations by an Egyptian friend of mine who writes a good blog, Underreported, about the media and the Middle East. You might want to bookmark that.

By Yasser El-Shimy
Best Defense Cairo bureau chief

The Obama administration has consistently chosen to overlook all the signs pointing to imminent instability in Egypt. The mountain of grievances and exasperation Egyptians have was overlooked in favor of the more illusory notion of stability. When a popular revolution finally started to sweep Egypt, the White House wasted a lot of time stressing Mr. Mubarak’s "stability" and "friendliness." This ambivalent attitude enraged many Egyptians who viewed the United States as the guarantor of their tormentor’s survival. Photos of American-made tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets used heavily against peaceful protesters were all over social networks. Secretary Clinton’s statements on Sunday calling for an "orderly transition" were a step in the right direction, but were alas drowned in the midst of all previous unhelpful comments.

To be sure, it is not all grief for America in Egypt. The protesters are overwhelmingly secular and demand a civilian, secular, and democratic state. There is no genuine threat of an Islamist takeover. Egyptians also seek better living conditions, a functioning economy, employment and political representation. These aspirations do not betray any proclivity to delve into costly foreign wars or hand the country over to bearded politicians. This would seem to be the fulfillment of America’s democratization agenda for the Arab Middle East. This strategic reconfiguration could usher in an era of democratic stability, peace and weakened fundamentalism.

Here are five steps Washington should take to expedite the Mubarak regime’s inevitable demise, and allow a transitional government to lead Cairo into democratic elections:

1) Declare America’s unconditional support for the demands of Egyptian protesters, and recognition of a transitional national unity government to-be set up by the opposition. Mubarak is a dead man walking, and the sooner America sides with the winning side, the better it serves its own interests, and realizes its actual ideals. The United States must unequivocally side with the Egyptian people in their revolt. If this revolution fails, Mubarak will rule Egypt a la Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and his influence and that of his state will be substantially diminished. It will not be long before another revolution or coup, perhaps less secular and less democratic, overthrows him or his successor from office.

2) Suspend all aid that directly benefits Hosni Mubarak and his cronies, while offering shipments of medical aid through the Red Crescent to all the injured protesters. This step should further weaken the Egyptian dictator, and offer an olive branch to the Egyptians who are currently suspicious of Washington’s duplicity in keeping Mubarak in power.

3) Declare Washington’s interest in forging a special friendship with the Egyptian people, offering to advise on (and potentially fund) education, infrastructure, technology, research and development, healthcare, etc. Egypt will be in a very grave economic condition, when Mubarak leaves, and will be grateful for all the help it can receive. The police force has reportedly orchestrated widespread acts of vandalism of public and private properties to spread panic among the population. The Egyptian stock market and many foreign investments are doomed for a few years to come. The government will be hard-pressed to meet the expectations of the population in light of the damage the Mubarak regime inflicted on the country prior to its departure and the flight of foreign capital.

4) Offer a free three month supply of wheat. Bread to Egyptians is the essential food staple that they cannot do without. Egyptians will be grateful if Washington helps stabilize food supplies at this critical juncture.

5) Warn regional governments against intervening in Egypt’s domestic politics on the side of the Mubarak regime. Arab dictatorships are invested in Mr. Mubarak’s survival, as they fear a democratic wave that could sweep them from power as well. Israel is also worried about the future of its peace treaty with its southern neighbor. Of the two, Arab capitals have a stronger cause for concern.

These measures should not only ensure a friendly Cairo-Washington relationship for the foreseeable future, but should ensure the establishment of a sustainable alliance that serves both countries’ interests.

Yasser El- Shimy, a former diplomatic attaché at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lectures in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East at the Catholic University of America.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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