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Egypt Upheaval Poses Dilemma for Washington

  • Elizabeth Arrott

America's relations with Egypt have been defined in large part by the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the financial rewards to Egypt for maintaining it. But current upheavals in the region may have changed that dynamic.

Foreign policy is not often the stuff of music videos. But an Egyptian belly-dancer's take on international relations offers a glimpse into current thinking.

Selma elMasry's sings that U.S. President Barack Obama is a “stupid, bad man” for wanting ousted President Mohamed Morsi released from detention.

The pro-military belly-dancer's song is proving a minor sensation, not least for reviving a perennial Arab complaint about U.S. support for Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Israel has been the cornerstone of U.S - Egyptian relations for decades. In exchange for recognizing the Jewish state in 1979, Egypt has received more than a billion dollars a year in aid - mainly to the military.

But the U.S. faces a dilemma.

Normally Washington calls a military ouster of a freely elected president a coup. By U.S. law, aid must be cut off. But aid to Egypt has been great leverage for the U.S. and has helped keep Cairo a trusted ally.

This has made for awkward moments. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki spars with a reporter over the U.S. stance.

REPORTER: “You have a position on what happened in Egypt was a coup?
PSAKI: “We have determined that we do not need to make a determination.”

Despite efforts not to offend, ties are strained. Armed Forces chief Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, like many other top generals, studied at the U.S. War College, but lately has been dismissive of Washington.

And the recent influx of $12 billion from Gulf countries has made U.S. aid less important than it once was.

Morsi's supporters think the U.S. made a mistake by accepting the ouster. They point to the ex-president's key role in resolving Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Mohamed Soudan is foreign secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing.

"When Israel attacked Gaza, he finished this problem in 24, 48 hours," Soudan said. "And then we have very good relations with people in Gaza. And we can do also the reconciliation with Fatah.”

But some argue the U.S. needn't worry too much about who's in charge in Egypt.

Despite the rhetoric, neither the military nor Morsi's government showed interest in fundamentally altering the peace treaty with Israel.

And the upheavals throughout the Arab world may have overshadowed Arab-Israeli antagonisms. Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo says the current troubles put the Israeli question into perspective and argues it's time for peace.

"We cannot have the Arab-Israeli conflict from time immemorial until doomsday," he said. "We have to finish. We need to see an end.”

Which would be welcome news for Israel's ally, the United States.

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