Friday, January 27, 2012

How Washington Feels about Egypt

Posted by Issandr el Amrani  at The Arabist is an insightful letter from Jon Alterman (director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]) that outlines the positions of two opposing camps in DC regarding hoped-for outcomes of Egypt's ever-in-flux political situation.  I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but the positions boil down to those who want to see the military dominate the Egyptian government vs. those who favor broader political participation via properly empowering parliament and the army's standing down and returning to the barracks.  Alterman places himself in the latter camp, but evidently felt compelled to write the letter to refute el Amrani's accusations that Alterman in fact belongs to the former camp by his alleged affiliation with a so-called SQL (status-quo lobby) that prefers the "stability" that had been ensured by the previous military-based regime of Hosni Mubarak (and presumably by SCAF's retention of power).

Perhaps CSIS's heaviest hitter, though, and probably CSIS's most recognizable public face, is Anthony Cordesman.  Cordesman was indeed an occasional critic of some of the more bone-headed initiatives and outcomes of Bush-era neoconservatism.  But  customarily he has been of the pragmatist-realist school, most notably, that element of it that tends to perceive Middle Eastern developments through the prism of the necessity of safeguarding American interests by preserving American global military supremacy (a theme he expressed, for example, in this 2008 WaPo piece about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still "winnable").   And for decades, of course, American interests and supremacy in the Middle East have been linked umbilically (at least in the eyes of the Beltway establishment - which includes CSIS)  with Israel's interests and regional military supremacy.  

Many would find it difficult to reconcile that stance with what Alterman says he favors (and I most certainly hope to see) - the Egyptian army standing down and stepping aside in favor of representative democracy - especially when that democracy is to be underpinned by a parliament dominated (as Egypt's now is) by Islamists, many of whom (despite recent statements to the contrary) have little patience with Israel and are going to be accountable to an electorate that likely has even less patience.  

It's nice to see Alterman distance himself somewhat from the kind of working assumptions that seem to motivate Cordesman (and for that matter, so many of CSIS's stable of experts).

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