The Cairo Conundrum

Shadi Hamid in Democracy:

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 11 12.00 With Afghanistan, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sucking most of Washington’s limited attention, Egypt has faded into the background.

But Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world and still its pre-eminent cultural and intellectual center, is a bellwether for the region. American policy toward Cairo, its closest Arab ally and, since 1979, its second-largest recipient of foreign aid, has been in need of a facelift for some time. U.S.-Egypt relations have long been governed by an understanding that, in return for supporting American interests in the region, Washington would turn a blind eye to Egypt’s authoritarian practices. This bargain–interests in exchange for ideals–remained firm until the Bush Administration began to realize, in the aftermath of September 11, that the status quo was not as stable as originally thought. Support of Arab autocracies had boomeranged, producing a Middle East consumed by political violence and extremism. In her own Cairo speech, four years before Obama’s, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.”

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