When it comes to Egypt’s current political crisis, the United States has few good options, analysts believe.
“I think the impulse of most American administrations is to show up in an Arab country and say, ‘Take me to your leader,’ ” said Nathan J. Brown, a George Washington University professor and leading expert on Egypt. “I don’t think we have many alternatives. The United States is not in the position to back a military coup or the opposition.”
With the Muslim Brotherhood employing increasingly violent and anti-Western rhetoric, a quiet, diplomatic approach is merited, says one observer.
“A much more effective strategy for the United States is to call for a dialogue between Morsi’s government and the opposition behind closed doors,” said analyst Dalia Mogahed. “The U.S. coming out publicly on the side of the opposition will be used against them.”
However the current conflict is resolved, Egypt is “clearly going to be more Islamist,” says Middle East analyst Graeme Bannerman, a former staffer for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff:
Whether or not that becomes the dominant force in Egypt is up for grabs at this point, and that’s why emotions are so high. Clearly, Egypt differs from all of the other countries in the Arab world in that, yes, it is moving in a more Islamic direction as everyone else is, but it is, first and foremost, Egyptian. And as long as the Islamists can maintain that “we are Egyptians first and Islamists second,” they will be able to do fine. If, on the other hand, it becomes clear that they are Islamist first and Egyptian second, then they will have trouble with the majority of the Egyptian population.
But Egypt’s current crisis is not necessarily a consequence of Islamist politics or Arab political culture, a leading analyst tells David Rohde:
The only small cause for hope is that Egypt’s struggles are not unprecedented. Other countries have undergone agonizing and turbulent transitions as well. Thomas Carothers, an expert on transitions to democracy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that what is occurring today in Egypt is typical when a long-disenfranchised group gains power. Distrustful and insular after years of struggles, it is often reluctant to share power and still views itself as deeply vulnerable.
Mr. Carothers said Egypt’s struggle mirrors the difficult transition still under way in Bolivia. Seven years after Evo Morales was elected that country’s first president of indigenous descent, a tense “fundamental rebalancing of political power” is still playing out in Bolivia. The country’s traditional elite and the indigenous movement still struggle to trust each other and share power. Bigoted arguments that democracy does not work in the Arab world do not apply in Egypt.
“There is nothing particularly Arab about what is happening,” Mr. Carothers said. “It’s not an Islamist issue per se.”