Egypt-US relations unlikely to suffer under Biden
Many Egyptians, politicians and non-politicians alike, believe that Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the US presidential election was not in the best interests of their country. Their fears are based on the stance that was taken by former President Barack Obama, which was considerably different from that of his successor, Trump.
However, this view of political science is not correct at all. Rather, it indicates a narrow view and simplistic understanding of the rules of international politics, based on the idea that “no friendship lasts nor is enmity prolonged in the world of politics.”
Trump is a friend of the Egyptian state and has been supportive of its policies in specific areas, in particular its efforts to combat terrorism. The Obama administration, on the other hand, was largely supportive of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood movement. But this does not necessarily mean that Biden will adopt Obama’s policy by supporting the Brotherhood and putting pressure on the Egyptian state.
The Obama administration supported the Jan. 25 revolution in 2011 and Obama himself delivered an eloquent speech in which he praised and gave his blessing to the youth movement in the country.
With the passing of a period of instability, consultations took place between US officials and representatives of the Brotherhood in Egypt, which was considered the strongest and most organized faction on the ground (we heard that a lot in those days). As a result, the Obama administration decided that US interests were best served by backing the group.
Washington gave its blessing to the election of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt in June 2012, but when a constitutional declaration in November that year effectively granted him unlimited powers, opinions about him and the Brotherhood grew more divided among administration officials. Some, including US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, continued to believe American interests were best served by the Brotherhood remaining in power, while others were concerned that the group was attempting to establish a fascist religious state.
The popular uprising in Egypt on June 30, 2013, shocked the Brotherhood and its supporters, who intervened forcefully in an attempt to defeat those who had taken to the streets to save their country. Nevertheless, the revolution succeeded and the Brotherhood regime was toppled.
This was a defining moment in the evolution of the form of the relationship between Egypt and the US. I say “form” and not “content” because the new administration in Cairo was supported by the vast majority of the Egyptian people, while Washington was constrained by its recent actions, experiences and contacts with Egypt, and an incomplete understanding of the reality of the changes there. As a result, there was friction in bilateral relations, made worse by areas of mutual misunderstanding.
The second and third generations of leading Brotherhood figures in other countries, who had been educated in the UK, the US and Canada and spoke fluent English, set about trying to save their comrades in Egypt. They wrote articles for major newspapers, magazines and think tanks, and their voices were heard in the US Congress.
The Egyptian state was keen to end this nightmare. When Republican candidate Trump defeated his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton — who, like Obama, was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — in the 2016 presidential election, he began to implement an overhaul of US policies. Among other things, he rejected the Brotherhood, canceled US treaties with Iran, and even made diplomatic overtures to North Korea and Russia.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian state sought to make improvements architecturally, socially and economically, and to build bridges of communication with the world. These efforts have borne fruit. Egypt has become an important international force on many levels and in issues such as combating terrorism, Mediterranean gas, the Libyan crisis, and peace in the Middle East.
As president, Biden’s policies will be based on the current realities, not past events.
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
As a result of the progress made by Egypt in these areas and others, the international community is increasingly eager to cooperate with Cairo. Over time, the world saw through the Brotherhood’s lies and unfounded allegations of injustice.
This brings us back to Biden, whose foreign policy team will certainly adopt a different approach to Egypt than that of the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president. As president, his policies will be based on the current realities, not past events.
Those Egyptians who are unhappy about Biden’s election are ignoring the enhancement of economic relations between Egypt and the US in recent years. This was only possible by agreeing to deal with American leaders.
During President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s visit to New York in September 2019, we saw the extent of the recent growth in US investment in Egypt, which the new occupants of the White House will certainly take into consideration during their dealings with Cairo.
Egypt has also acquired a prominent new position in the natural gas sector in the eastern Mediterranean — a development the Biden administration will want to study well and benefit from. There are also the issues of the Libyan crisis, illegal immigration to Europe, and regional peace to take into account, all of which are issues in which Egypt has become a pivotal player.
- Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy