US backing of el-Sissi reminiscent of Mubarak era

(By Deutsche Welle) With ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi sworn in as Egypt’s president, Washington has promised that it will cooperate with his government. Are US-Egyptian ties returning to the Mubarak-era status quo of military rule?

More than three years ago, US President Barack Obama withdrew Washington’s long-standing support for Hosni Mubarak, accelerating the former air force marshal’s overthrow by mass demonstrations. Today, the White House is cooperating with Egypt’s latest military-commander-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in what some analysts say is a return to the old status quo of US support for military rule.

“The United States looks forward to working with [Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi], the winner of Egypt’s presidential election, to advance our strategic partnership and the many interests shared by the United States and Egypt,” the White House said in a news release.

The Obama administration also expressed concern about the restrictive political environment in which the elections took place, calling on el-Sissi to adopt political reforms that would fulfill the “democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

But in his May 28 foreign policy speech, President Obama made clear that US-Egyptian relations are primarily rooted in national security interests, not democracy promotion.

“In countries like Egypt, we acknowledged that our relationship is anchored in security interests, from peace treaties with Israel to shared efforts against violent extremism,” Obama told the West Point Military Academy’s graduating class.

“So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently push for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded,” the president continued.

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US circumvents law to transfer aid to Egypt

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Congress has passed legislation that allows the White House to transfer more than $1 billion in aid money to Egypt. Experts say that Washington is prioritizing Mubarak-era security arrangements over democracy.

As Egypt’s controversial political transition moves forward under the watchful eye of a military-backed interim government, the United States faces a dilemma over whether to embrace General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi or risk jeopardizing its relations with Cairo, a key strategic ally in the Middle East.

So far, the White House has declined to label General el-Sissi’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi – Egypt’s first democratically elected leader – as a military coup. That’s because the US Foreign Assistance Act bars Washington from providing aid money to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

By calling Morsi’s ouster a coup, the Obama administration would have been obligated to cut $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid money to Egypt. A significant portion of that money goes directly to US defense contractors which manufacture weapons systems for Cairo. The money also helps to maintain the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement.

In January, the US Congress passed a spending bill that effectively allows the Obama administration to circumvent the Foreign Assistance Act and transfer aid money to Egypt under the condition that the country makes progress toward democratic governance.

“It’s an attempt by the Congress to give more space and freedom to the administration to deal with a government that came to power by a coup,” Khalil al-Anani, an Egypt expert with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., told DW.

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US turns blind eye as army ousts Islamists

(By Deutsche Welle) The US has called for a quick return to democratic rule in Egypt. But with billions in aid at stake, Washington has stopped short of calling President Morsi’s overthrow by the military a coup d’état.

More than two years after US President Barack Obama backed the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak, Washington has stepped aside while the Egyptian military has ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi.

On Wednesday, President Obama issued a carefully worded statement, calling on Egypt’s generals to quickly restore democratic rule. But Obama seemed to express tacit support for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who had taken to the streets of Egypt in recent days, demanding that the Islamist dominated government resign.

“No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people,” the US president said in his press release. “An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians want and deserve.”

While State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that the US “was not taking sides” in Egypt’s latest political crisis, she also faulted President Morsi for not proposing steps to address the opposition’s concerns.

“You’re seeing a clash between values and interest here,” Tarek Radwan, an Egypt expert with the Atlantic Council, told DW. “Naturally, [US] values say a stable democracy is good in the long term. Our interests, however, say a military coup is in fact a good thing here.” 

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Egypt opposition wary of US financial overtures

(Deutsche Welle) As Egypt heads toward economic crisis, Washington has begun releasing long-stalled financial aid. But members of the secular opposition are concerned that the US may be getting too cozy with the Islamist incumbents.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced last weekend that Washington would disburse some $190 million (145 million euros) to help Egypt close its gaping budget deficit, raising concern among secular and liberal opposition groups that the Obama administration is cultivating closer ties with Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Kerry also pledged another $60 million to help set up a joint Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund to support small businesses. The total $250 million in aid money would be the first installment of a one-billion-dollar package pledged by US President Barack Obama to Egypt in May 2011.

Up until now, the disbursement of that money has been delayed due to concerns in Washington about Egypt’s volatile transition to a more democratic system. Members of Congress in particular have been worried about Morsi’s commitment to peace with Israel, Egyptian security forces raiding NGOs, and anti-American protests at the US embassy in Cairo last September.

“[The US] wanted to make sure power is transferred meaningfully from the military to an elected president,” Yasser El-Shimy, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Cairo, told DW. “Now that Egypt has a president, a constitution and parliamentary elections, the US feels much more comfortable giving that money.”

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Anatomy of Arab revolutions shows trend toward democracy

(By Deutsche Welle) Although the Arab world has traditionally lagged behind the global trend toward greater democracy, a liberal revolution that began in Tunisia has put monarchies and dictators throughout the region on the defensive.

For decades, the Arab world stagnated under authoritarianism despite a global expansion of democracy beyond its historic core in North America and Western Europe. According to the US think tank Freedom House, the number of democracies in the world more than doubled by the new millennium, as communism collapsed and strongmen from Latin America to Southeast Asia were forced from power.

Although the Middle East appeared immune to this liberalizing trend, popular uprisings now referred to as the “Arab Spring” have successfully forced authoritarian regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrating that even political heavyweights like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak are ultimately accountable to the people.

“We’re seeing in a sense the global spread of the aspirations for democracy finally coming to the surface in the Arab world,” Jack Goldstone, an expert on revolutions with George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, told Deutsche Welle.

But turning an uprising against an authoritarian leader into a broader revolution that brings true political change is more difficult. Although the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have been successfully ousted, the future is uncertain. And in Libya, Syria and Yemen, peaceful calls for civil rights have descended into violence.

“Whether this results in revolutions or not depends on the local regimes,” Goldstone said.

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Egyptian military’s uncertain role could decide Mubarak’s fate

(By Deutsche Welle) President Hosni Mubarak deployed the military to intimidate protestors. But it remains unclear whether the military will side with the regime or the uprising. Will Washington use its influence in Cairo to tip the scale?

As the protests in Egypt begin to look increasingly like a revolution, President Hosni Mubarak’s government has deployed the military to Cairo in a bid to intimidate a population now calling for his resignation. Where the military’s loyalty really lies is an open question that could decide the fate of Mubarak’s regime.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has called for calm and asked for the demands of the protestors to be addressed. Yet Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US military aid, second only to Israel. The Egyptian security apparatus is bankrolled by Washington to an annual sum of $1.3 billion (0.9 billion euros).

At least 38 Egyptians have already lost their lives in the violence. In response, the Obama administration has announced that future military aid to Cairo will be subject to how Mubarak’s regime treats the protestors. Will Washington use its influence to push Mubarak toward greater concessions?

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