On March 28, The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East co-hosted a panel discussion focused on Egypt’s ongoing transition and US policy options.

The panel featured Shana Marshall, research fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian blogger and activist, and Michele Dunne, director of the Hariri Middle East Center at the Atlantic Council.

Shana Marshall discussed the role of the military in both the domestic and international economy of Egypt. Marshall focused on incentive contracts (also known as offset agreements), which is a component of international defense trade that requires a portion of the defense contract sale value to be reinvested in the domestic civilian economy of that country. The issue with Egypt, however, is that “arms contracts are providing complementary incentives to the Egyptian military over and above what the arms contract transfers.” She also said Egypt’s military has a strategic method of diversifying its economic portfolio, and that as a result, it has a significant amount of control and influence over the economy.

Maikel Nabil discussed three points: Egypt is not adhering to the peace treaty with Israel, or the Camp David Accords; Egypt is not undergoing a real democratic transition; there is no foundation for a long-term US-Egypt bilateral relationship. Nabil argued that there is still significant anti-Israel propaganda in schools and state-run media, which is in violation of the peace treaty, and the continued crackdown on freedom of speech is a violation of the Camp David Accords. He said, “Democracy is more than a polling booth,” and using his own arrest as an example, he insisted that divergent opinions are considered a crime. Lastly, he described the continued relationship between the US and Egypt as “strange,” particularly given the deterioration of the NGO situation as the crisis continued. Nabil argued that US citizens are not safe in Egypt, US organizations cannot operate peacefully, Egyptian state media runs propaganda campaigns defaming the US, and there are few shared values between the two countries. While wanting to enhance the relationship between the US and Egypt, Nabil said that in order to solve the problem one must recognize that there is one.

Michele Dunne spoke about the uncertainty of Egypt’s future, especially politically. The US-Egypt relationship is off-balance and too dependent on the security sector, and Dunne believes that relationship may get worse before it gets better. Dunne argued that the US is missing the moment of getting involved in Egypt’s transition in a meaningful way by not voicing its willingness to revitalize the bilateral relationship and work toward long-term transition goals. By failing in this regard, “The US is clinging to old assumptions about its relationship with Egypt, and is reluctant to rethink it.” Drawing on recent polls, Egyptians are frustrated with the lack of US support, and not just concerning military aid.

Dunne addressed the United States’ ability to use its military aid as leverage that aid could definitely have been used as leverage to push along democratic reform, but said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to not use that leverage when she waived the conditions. “What is the point of having leverage of we’re never going to use it?” asked Dunne.

Notes courtesy of POMED.