The View from Washington on Egypt’s CBC [Video]

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Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East Director Michele Dunne appeared on Egyptian channel CBC to discuss the current situation in Egypt. Topics of particular focus including US policy towards Egypt, the Egyptian opposition, and ongoing negotiations between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan.

Speaking about the view from Washington, Dr. Dunne says, “There’s a lot of concern in Washington now about what’s happening in Egypt…I would say there’s a sense that Washington doesn’t quite know what to do in order to have any positive influence on the situation.”

Elaborating, she says, “The US administration certainly wanted to have good relations with the first democratically elected president in Egypt, and to be supportive and to also be able to have an interlocutor for the important security concerns, for example about Sinai, about Gaza, but I think from November onward, there has been growing concern about some of the moves the presidency has taken with respect to the constitutional declaration, the referendum on the constitution, and the many security and economic problems we’ve seen since then.”

Speaking about what the US needs to do Dr. Dunne recommends not only developing an “appropriate relationship” with the Egyptian government, but also developing that relationship with Egyptian society, the opposition and with civil society. “It seems to me that the US relationship with Egypt is still almost in the same form, the same mold, that it was during the Mubarak years, where it is primarily a relationship with the president and a small circle of advisors around him.”

Tamara Coffman Wittes, Director of the Brookings’ Saban Center for the Middle East points to additional similarities between the Morsi and Mubarak governments. “I find it surprising and disturbing that some of the things that I hear from those people who are working for President Morsi are the same things I used to hear from officials under the Mubarak government,” Wittes said, specifically in relation to the many libel cases brought against journalists and activists for insulting the president.

Wittes recommendations for the US administration call for a more studied reaction. She says, “I think it’s probably better for the US not to jump out and make a judgment when it’s not clear what’s going on. The more time passes, the more data you accumulate, and the easier it is to get a sense of what is the overall trajectory. I think what you’ve heard from Secretary Kerry over the last few months is that there are some concerns here in Washington about the overall trajectory that the Morsi government has set and how closely it aligns with a democratic trajectory. “

Speaking about the statements coming out of the US administration in particular, Dr. Dunne views them as inconsistent. “Since the revolutions in the Arab world, the US administration has really been uncertain about what role it should play, especially what it should say publicly,” adding, “There has been a tendency for Washington to be largely silent, and I think there’s a sense now that perhaps the US should have spoken up more, for example, at the time of the constitutional declaration in November and the referendum in December.” In the past few months, however, Dr. Dunne points to a more vocal Secretary of State, with Senator Kerry “speaking a little more fully” on the US stance on the values and principles regarding the rights of Egypt’s people.

Turning to the IMF loan and the US administration’s stance on negotiations, Dr. Dunne says, “My impression is that the US wants there to be an agreement between the IMF and Egypt, but that it is not pushing the IMF to relax its usual conditions for such loans,” adding, “As the IMF has said, and this is very important, the economic policies in Egypt need to have broad political support within Egypt.”

Egypt has received stop-gap loans from regional players, but Wittes describes these as temporary measures that will do little to address the real problems plaguing Egypt’s economy. “A few billion dollars here and there from any source will provide a few weeks of relief to the Egyptian government in terms of supporting the value of the Egyptian pound, in terms of importing food and fuel, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The underlying problem is a policy problem.”

She adds, “I think we have to recognize the policy choices facing this Egyptian government or any Egyptian government are painful and it will be difficult. We have to recognize that those choices are hard, but unless those choices are made, Egypt’s economic crisis will only grow deeper.”

Looking to the future, Dr. Dunne is optimistic. “The Egyptian people made such an important statement through their revolution about wanting to change the relationship between citizens and government, that they want the government to really be responsible and accountable to citizens, and to reflect their will. I don’t think Egyptians have changed their view of that. That’s what they still want, and I think they will stick with this and will pursue it.”

Watch the entire interview below:

Photo: Glynn Lowe

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