US-Egypt Relations Hill Briefing by #AAIUSA: “Launch of National Dialogue”

 “It was a coup and a popular uprising…both can happen at the same time.”~Michael Hanna

Washington, DC~On July 24th, PITAPOLICY attended a U.S.-Egypt Relations briefing hosted by the Arab American Institute (@AAIUSA) to discuss AAI’s latest poll findings “Launch of National Dialogue”.   Online discussions were also held on Tuesday and Thursday.  At the end of the day, regardless of what American politicians, policymakers, and pundits project and pontificate about suspending aid to Egypt, national reconciliation within Egypt is Egypt’s priority–alongside economic woes–not how the U.S. views Egypt’s military role.  Egypt’s military remains the strongest institution as it trumps party politics.  Will national reconciliation work to downgrade the military’s role?  

Moreover, as Daily News Egypt reporter, Basil Dabh, observes: the social reconciliation may be even more important than political reconciliation between “pro” and “anti”- Morsi camps.  A longer time horizon for social reconciliation may include at least a half a generation. However, we think social reconciliation is a precursor to political but that doesn’t preclude present interim government under Adly Mansour from addressing the economic grievances that Egyptians face: inflation, fear of subsidy cuts, and demand for job creation. On the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. could play around with restructuring its aid to Egypt, but the more it is discussed, the more negative attention the US draws to its bumpy relationship with Egypt–for the moment.

 AAI’s report polled both Americans and Egyptians following the June 30th, Tamarod movement that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi.  The report compared its Egypt data from the last 20 years to the results following June 30th.

  • Almost two-thirds of Americans want US to “stay out of” the dispute between the MB and their opponents (protesters & the military). #Egypt
  • US opinion is divided on the decision by the military to depose President Morsi.
  • In 1993, Americans had a favorable view of #Egypt at 64%. Today it’s 26%

AAI Founder, Jim Zogby moderated a panel that included: https://twitter.com/AAIUSA/status/360071921561378816/photo/1

  • Geneive Abdo, Middle East/Southwest Asia Fellow at The Stimson Center; Author of three books, including “No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam”
  • Steven Clemons, Washington editor-at-large of The Atlantic and Senior Fellow, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation
  • Michael Hanna, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation

The purpose of the panel was to go beyond the stalemate of what to call the Egypt events–coup or no coup–and try to forecast options for the U.S. to engage Egypt politically and economically.  As AAI’s blog noted, “All of the panelists took issue with U.S. policy toward Egypt in general in some way, describing it as inconsistent, misleading, and confusing both to Americans and the people of Egypt and the broader region.”  AAIUSA posted “Launch of National Dialogue:#AAIchat on #Egypt” on Storify. Nonetheless, PITAPOLICY  still has some questions.  So we break down the discussion via Politics, Interests/Impact, Technology, and Analysis (Policy, International Development, and Economics) and resynthesizes Abdo’s, Clemons’, and Hanna’s points.

Politics

  • Abdo: The US has to be careful not to alienate all sides of the political spectrum in Egypt, says US policy has been a failure.
  • Abdo and Clemons recommended that the US call June 30th events a coup, which would help the US move forward on Egypt in the long term as well as resolve the short term issue of tackling the aid question.
  • Hanna offered a different take by emphasizing that the events were just as much a popular uprising since it’s a “transition period” for Egypt. (PITAPOLICY recognizes that many Egyptians believe that classifying the events is a semantic debate, but it is worth noting that U.S. law is clear about how to proceed with aid decisions regardless of popular or unpopular opinion outside of elections.)

Clemons and Hanna note the significant social role that Muslim Brotherhood holds in civil society, but differ on the MB’s future political role.

  • Clemons: If we were to have an election in #Egypt tomorrow, the Muslim Brotherhood would win.
  • Hanna: “Muslim Brotherhood won’t disappear because the MB is organic part of #Egypt civil society and will continue to provide social services” but would “resoundingly get beat, get trounced” if there was an election tomorrow, argues Hanna.
  • Abdo: Don’t think we’re going to see a parliament dominated by secularist parties.

Interests/Impact

  • Each group is equally represented and equally annoyed with the transition. Minister of is from the independent Unions movement. Also, ‘Foloul’ (Mubarak era politicians) represented in the Cabinet.
  • Both Abdo and Clemons argue that the U.S. should suspend military aid, whereas Hanna argues that the US should restructure aid because he believes that the “US still remains the most important outside player in Egypt.”
  • What does restructuring aid look like? ‏asked by @lalarian
  • Farah Halime writes for RebelEconomy and highlights the impact in “Egypt’s Ultimatum”

Regarding the U.S. interests: “The less we do and the less we say, the better off we are,”  advises Jim Zogby, because “We’ve been meandering.”

Alternatively, Clemons reintroduces the question that goes beyond the semantic debate of “coup” or “no coup” by asking: how will Egypt’s next government address Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist concerns of being forced out after winning a civilian election.  The June 30th-July 3rd events to remove Morsi speaks to other Islamist groups age old grievance: that they can only participate in elections if they lose.

Technology

  • On July 24th, the US suspended military planes (F-16’s) to Egypt.  (By the way: who is trained to fix the planes during maintenance, or do the planes require service by Americans?)
  • Would be great to know if cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Egypt will not only continue, but invite those in Science, Tech, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Analysis (Policy on ID & Economics)

Note as of January, Egypt’s budget deficit has run at about $3.2 billion a month, which is almost half of all state spending.  Most of the U.S. 1.6 billion aid goes towards Egypt’s military, which is believed to have a significant share of Egypt’s economy–ranging from 15 to 40 % of Egypt’s economy.

  • Clemons calls for suspending military aid to Egypt but HOLD back from extreme “House call” Congressional action to end Development Assistance and Economic Support Funds: “There is no question it was a coup and our response is wrong. It’s not cut aid–shift military to economic.”
  • Clemons: We over Americanize much of the problems going on in the Middle East.
  • James Zogby: Number one issue in #Egypt is the economy. Egypt needs quick subsidies to put cash in people’s pockets
  • Biggest surprise about the Muslim Brotherhood is that they have demonstrated success as businessmen, yet but economy remained biggest Egypt priority. Why did Muslim Brotherhood focus so much on consolidating its power within one branch of government when they ran on previous success of delivering social services and running lucrative businesses?
  • Hanna: Not just an International Monetary Fund demand, but “solvency demand” because 25% of Egypt budget goes towards subsidies.  So shouldn’t the interim government move to adjust the gas subsidy? Or do they want the next government to spend its political capital to restructure the subsidies on gas?

Additional Comments/Tweets:

  • Jim Zogby: Myths that Arabs have about America: “They think that we have the ability and the knowledge to manipulate events”
  • Zogby: US didn’t know what would happen on #June30. If we did when Anne Patterson gave the speech she did at Ibn Khaldun Center, we have problems.
  • @mwhanna1: Flaws in US policy predate President Mohamed #Morsi and the #MB “repressive stability does not work”
  • Zogby: Americans lack of understanding of #Egypt contributes to their ambivalence toward US policy there
  • Hanna: The Coup wasn’t inevitable #Egypt #June30. Says: #Morsi is not coming back. via @aaiusa
  • Hanna: There is nothing permanent about the dominance of political islam in the Arab world via @aaiusa
  • Hanna says before #June30 #Morsi’s actual ability to govern had be irreparably damaged. #MB has lost touch with #Egypt via @AAIUSA
  • Jim Zogby: American leadership has not explained our values, our policies toward #Egypt via @AAIUSA

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