Home/Daniel Larison/Trying to Pick Winners and Losers in Egypt

Trying to Pick Winners and Losers in Egypt

Ted Cruz thinks the U.S. should support the anti-Morsi protesters:

One would expect to find the United States standing firmly with these people. Surely, after our long and lonely search for secular and democratic partners in the Arab world, we could find some common ground with them. Surely, we could see the value of an administration in Egypt that could act as both a southern bulwark for Israel and a much-needed partner in countering the terrorist outposts in the Sinai and Horn of Africa. And surely, we could help support a government that could stand as an example for struggling states like Libya and Iran — one that proves Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East are not predestined to live in oppressive theocracies.

Tragically, America has been relegated to the sidelines.

As long as the U.S. provides aid to the Egyptian military, the U.S. is bound to be resented by whichever political groups do not control the government. That isn’t going to change even when the government is a genuinely elected one. If the protesters are successful in driving the extremely unpopular Morsi out, there will always be an incentive for the forces defeated at the last election to stage mass protests demanding the early resignation of the incumbent. There will also be an incentive for those protesters to identify the U.S. as the incumbent’s supporter in order to blame Washington and to vilify the current leader. Because the U.S. will presumably continue to provide aid to the Egyptian military for reasons that have little to do with internal Egyptian politics, there is no way that Washington can “fix” this by throwing its support to the “right” people. The U.S. accepted the first coup government under the SCAF and pretended that it hadn’t staged a coup because this conveniently met the demands of anti-Mubarak protesters, but U.S. policy towards Egypt shouldn’t be determined primarily by what the latest protesters happen to want. Short of endorsing a second coup or affirming that election outcomes should be respected only when the “right” people win them, the U.S. doesn’t have a ready-made alternative.

The U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of trying to influence or control the composition of Egypt’s government, since any attempt to do so would likely backfire and open it up to more charges of interfering in Egyptian affairs. Washington shouldn’t be expected to endorse the resignation of a foreign leader simply because large numbers of protesters demand it, and it is unlikely that any good would come from being perceived by supporters of the incumbent as the outside power that tried to pressure him to relinquish his office. A standard conservative line is that the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers, but that is exactly how Cruz thinks the U.S. should respond to foreign protest movements. Had the election last year gone the other way and Shafik were the one now facing mass protests, would Cruz be faulting the U.S. for having cooperated with Egypt’s elected leadership? It seems unlikely, and that’s the problem. If Morsi and his allies were replaced by their opponents in this fashion, it likely would not be long before his supporters organized similar protests to drive the next government from office. This would have the potential to devolve quickly into large-scale violence. Once started, that pattern would make Egypt even more ungovernable and would become an ongoing source of instability for the country and the surrounding region.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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