While the loss of life in Cairo over the past two days is deeply to be regretted, President Obama’s tepid statement on the “cycle of violence” in Egypt and cancellation of the biannual U.S.-Egypt Bright Star military exercise evidence a lack of strategic awareness. The result is increasing American irrelevance in Egypt and the broader Middle East.
For the President to demand that Cairo lift the state of emergency and the Muslim Brotherhood engage only in peaceful protest is at best naive. To posit that national reconciliation, respect for the rights of women and religious minorities, constitutional reforms and democratic elections are the immediate American objectives is to ignore the reality of armed conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a political party, it is a violent, radical transnational movement that used the format of elections to acquire the levers of state power in Egypt. Having been deposed, it is not leaving peacefully. Brotherhood attacks on churches, government assets and individuals require a response from the State. There is no immaculate way to put down an insurrection driven by those for whom death has long term political utility.
The Egyptian government appears to have two strategic objectives: reducing the Muslim Brotherhood’s capability and indeed its presence in Cairo and other Egyptian cities; and reducing the presence of armed jihadists in the Sinai. These coincide with traditional American strategic objectives of maintaining the security of the Suez Canal, the security of Sinai, and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
The United States must remained focused, as it has historically been able to do, on its strategic requirements. The President’s insistence on the principles of liberal democracy before security will find the United States no allies in Egypt or elsewhere that jihadists and their allies try to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its long time partners.
In Egypt, they appear to have succeeded.
Neither security nor democracy will follow.