Will spike of violence in Egypt push US to act more forcefully?
Competing US demands for democracy and stability in Egypt have led to a stand-back policy approach. But a surge of deadly violence and signals from the Egyptian military may change all that.
As violent protests aimed at the Egyptian military’s hold on power continued Monday, the United States finds itself in the difficult position of weighing its demands for democracy against its competing interest in Egypt’s stability.Skip to next paragraph
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Complicating the US approach is the fact that, unlike the movement that deposed President Hosni Mubarak in February, the protests that started Friday have seen significant participation from – and to some extent have been led by – Egypt’s largest religious political force, the Muslim Brotherhood.
For the most part US officials have remained quiet, at least publicly, on the pace of Egypt’s political transition and in particular on the most recent protests. But with Egyptians dying once again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – at least 24 people have died in the surge in violence, according to press reports – the Obama administration may be forced out of its stand-back approach.
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Already the stance Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assumed in a recent speech on global democratization movements was tagged by aides as a warning most specifically to Egypt’s military rulers – designated after Mr. Mubarak’s fall as a transitional leadership – against unelected officials clinging to power.
In a Nov. 7 speech to the national Democratic Institute in Washington, Secretary Clinton cautioned against a two-speed policy that favors short-term stability while envisioning long-term realization of democratic reform.
“We cannot have one set of policies to advance security in the here-and-now and another to promote democracy in a long run that never quite arrives,” she said.
The Egyptian protests were sparked by growing frustration over signs that the ruling military leadership – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF – plans to hold on to power indefinitely. The SCAF has said it would relinquish power once presidential elections are held, but it has remained vague on timing, suggesting a presidential vote might not take place until 2013.
Egyptians are set to vote in the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections next week, but the resurgence of protests reflects a waning hope that those elections will mark the first step toward a sure and timely transition to democracy. The military-appointed cabinet offered to resign Monday, bowing to protesters' demands, but it was not clear whether the military would accept that offer or what impact it would have on the election plans.
The US has regular contact with Egypt’s military rulers, with many of the country’s top officers having trained in the US. But the US is also working with many of Egypt’s top pro-democracy forces and is known to have maintained contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood.