Center for Strategic Communication

John Kerry’s first
visit to Cairo as Secretary of State this weekend laid bare some of the deep
limitations of U.S. policy toward Egypt. Kerry, like many others, is struggling
to find a bridge between supporting a staggering Egypt and pushing it in a more
democratic direction.The administration is open to new thinking about the
nature of Egypt’s problems and possible U.S. responses. Over the last month, the Middle East Channel has been hosting an
Policy Challenge
," asking leading analysts to offer their perspective on
the nature of Egypt’s ongoing political crisis and their advice for U.S.
foreign policy. Today, we are
pleased to announce the release of The Egypt Policy
Challenge as a free PDF collection

in the POMEPS Briefs series – download it today!

The challenge
was framed around the ways in which Washington might help Egypt become more
democratic. A significant portion of the policy, academic, and activist
community likely disagrees with either the goal
of democratizing Egypt, the assumption that the United States actually wants democracy in Egypt, or the idea
that the United States has any useful role
to play in accomplishing such a goal. A significant faction within the broader
policy community likely believes that Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt was better for
American interests than what has followed, particularly given intense suspicion
about the Muslim Brotherhood and the widespread circulation of anti-American
attitudes across the Egyptian political arena. Many others do support the goal of democracy in Egypt, but
fundamentally reject the conceit that the United States government shares that

While those
critical views deserve attention and discussion on their own merits, the focus
of this particular Egypt policy challenge was more limited: if the United
States. does want to support a democratic transition, then what can and should
it do? [[BREAK]]

The new
administration is clearly still in evaluation mode, as Kerry repeatedly
emphasized during his trip. It is trying to assess the real intentions of the
Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s capacity to govern as well as the opposition’s
critiques of the emerging system. It is trying to determine whether the parliamentary
elections slated to begin in April can be a meaningful step toward building
real democratic institutions. It is desperate to find some way to help prevent
economic collapse and to stop the dangerous degradation of public security.

He made only
cautious moves on this first trip. He announced $250 million in immediate
economic assistance, including a new $60 million Egyptian-American Enterprise
Fund. He urged the opposition to take part in the upcoming elections and the
government to ensure that they would be free and fair. He said many of
the right things
about U.S. priorities, pushing President Mohamed Morsi to
compromise and the opposition to participate in the elections. His statement on
the trip made clear that

hard work and compromise will be required to restore unity, political stability
and economic health to Egypt. The upcoming parliamentary elections are a
particularly critical step in Egypt’s democratic transition. We spoke in depth
about the need to ensure they are free, fair and transparent. We also discussed
the need for reform in the police sector, protection for non-governmental
organizations, and the importance of advancing the rights and freedoms of all
Egyptians under the law — men and women, and people of all faiths."  

Few found this
rhetoric or the new U.S. commitments satisfying, of course. The hotly polarized
political environment in Egypt made such a balancing act excruciatingly
difficult, as all sides hope for a more explicit endorsement of their position and bitterly resent anything which does not fully reflect their narrative. But for all the frustration, Kerry was right to make Egypt one of his first stops. This is a good moment for
the U.S. to take stock of what is happening in Egypt: Has it diagnosed Egyptian
politics correctly? Is it offering useful advice and material support?  Is it communicating its policy

The free PDF The Egypt Policy
collects some of the best recent analyses and recommendations
on these difficult questions. The
contributors include Holger Albrecht, Steven Cook, Michael Wahid Hanna, H.A.
Hellyer, Ellis Goldberg, Hani Sabra, Tamara Wittes,  Elijah Zarwan and more. Download
it today