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Top secret: Egypt: The January 25 Revolution and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy part3/4

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top secret: Egypt: The January 25 Revolution and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy part3/4
The U.S. Response: “Orderly Transition”, Lasting Security Interests, and Potential Issues for Congress

The revolution in Egypt has put the Obama Administration in a major quandary. Since taking office, President Obama has devoted greater time and attention to the pursuit of Middle East peace than to efforts to promote reform and democracy in the Arab world. This has been a deliberate tactic of the Obama Administration, designed to differentiate itself from the Bush Administration by giving priority to what President Obama believes is a core national interest—the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. By switching its public focus to an issue more amenable to the Egyptian government, the Administration also hoped to repair the damage to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship incurred during President’s Bush’s focus on the democracy agenda. By all accounts, reform efforts remained a component of U.S. diplomacy toward Egypt both in private and in public, but the Obama Administration had avoided overtly pressuring the Egyptian government for specific changes. Now, the Administration has had to engage in what some see as “rhetorical catch up” by publicly demanding immediate reform.

On Friday January 28, as images of Egyptians clashing with police filled the airwaves, the Administration said it would reassess U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt. Several days later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “there is no discussion as of this time of cutting off any aid.” President Obama and other U.S. officials urged all sides to refrain from violence, though the United States did not publicly call on Mubarak to step down. However, on Sunday, January 30, Secretary of State Clinton expressed in clearer terms the Administration’s desire for a new political order in Egypt, stating, “we want to see an orderly transition so that no one fills a void, that there not be a void, that there be a well thought out plan that will bring about a democratic participatory government.” In response, Dr. Muhammad El Baradei stated that:

The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy….You are losing credibility by the day. On one hand you're talking about democracy, rule of law and human rights, and on the other hand you're lending still your support to a dictator that continues to oppress his people

On January 31, the Administration sent former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner for personal talks with President Mubarak. According to unnamed sources, Wisner told Mubarak that “he was not going to be president in the future. And this message was plainly rebuffed.”20 In addition, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new Egyptian government “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be stable and reliable partner,” a remark most likely directed at U.S. support for the inclusion of the
Muslim Brotherhood in any future government. On February 1, the current U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, spoke with Dr. ElBaradei “to convey support for orderly transition in Egypt.”

The Obama Administration has continued to insist that there be an “orderly transition in Egypt that should be meaningful, peaceful and must begin now.” The Administration has denounced attacks against foreign journalists and has demanded that those who have perpetrated violence against innocents be held accountable. As of February 3, while some lawmakers have raised the possibility of halting foreign aid to Egypt, the Administration has not further addressed any punitive U.S. measures, such as cutting assistance or trade sanctions, in great detail.
France suspended arms sales to Egypt in late January. Reportedly, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia stated that his country would provide aid to Egypt if the United States withdrew its foreign assistance to Mubarak’s government.

On February 3, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military. Reportedly, the United States is seeking an immediate process of constitutional reform with participation for a broad range of opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Between February 5 and February 8, many observers suggested that the Administration had somewhat softened its insistence that a transition occur immediately. Analysts attributed the subtle shift to a combination of Mubarak’s intransigence, the U.S. military’s concern that the United States was isolating a key Arab military partner, and fears that the Muslim Brotherhood could dominate future parliamentary or presidential elections that by law would need to be held sooner rather than later.

Then, as protestors regained momentum, the Administration appeared to reapply pressure on the military and government to remove President Mubarak. Vice President Biden called Egyptian officials and insisted that authorities end the arrests and violence against protestors and journalists
and rescind the emergency law.

Repercussions for Israel and Middle East Peace

For more than 30 years, the United States and Israel have based their core assumptions about the basic stability of the Middle East and the absence of major Israeli-Arab conventional warfare on the cornerstone of the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

The Israeli government is concerned that its quiet, though cold, peace with Egypt may suffer as a result of the changing of the guard in Cairo. Some Israelis have suggested that their government may now have to change its defense posture and increase defense spending to counter a possible Egyptian threat. Because, among other things, of its treaty with Egypt, Israel had reduced its defense expenditure from 23% of its gross national product in the mid-1970s to about 9% today.

According to Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, “the only people in Egypt who are committed to peace are the people in Mubarak’s inner circle, and if the next president is not one of them, we are going to be in trouble.” Some Israelis believe that a more pluralistic government in Egypt would be less inclined to side with Israel in containing Hamas and blockading the Gaza
Strip due to public sympathy for Palestinian rights. In addition, it is uncertain if the next president of Egypt would try to serve as an intermediary between Israelis and Palestinians and between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Although a new Egyptian government may be expected to uphold the 1979 peace treaty, it may behave more as Turkey has over the past year and take a more confrontational approach with its neighbor Israel, a potentially dangerous development for U.S. foreign policy. Egypt also provides Israel with 40% of its natural gas, a deal that was widely criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups. Natural gas export revenue has been an important contributor to Egypt’s national budget, as oil revenues have declined in recent years.

Between February 5 and 7, violence erupted in the Sinai desert and along the Gaza border.
Militants struck a gas pipeline to Israel temporarily halting Egypt’s delivery of gas to Israel. A group called Takfir Wal Hijra also clashed with Egyptian police in the border town of Rafah. With Israel’s approval, Egypt had deployed an additional 800 army soldiers to the Sharm el Sheikh region and around Rafah. Israel denied Egypt’s second request for a deployment of troops. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also has ordered the army to speed construction of a 13-foot-tall, radar-monitored fence between Israel and Egypt that is being constructed mainly to keep out Sudanese migrants and smugglers.

Evacuation of American Citizens

The U.S. State Department has urged all American citizens to leave Egypt. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has said that for U.S. citizens in Egypt who wish to depart the country, arrangements are being made to provide transportation to locations in Europe, such as Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; and Nicosia, Cyprus. According to the State Department there are about 52,000 Americans registered with the embassy in Cairo. Many other U.S. citizens, however, are not registered with the Embassy. On February 1, the U.S. State Department ordered all nonessential American government personnel to leave the country. To date, at least 2,000 American citizens have been evacuated. So far, more than 3,000 U.S. citizens have communicated a desire to be evacuated.


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