“Four years ago, the United States talked about two laboratories for democracy in the Middle East: Iraq and Egypt.
Egypt was supposed to be the easier one. But now it’s battered Iraq that has shown democratic advances, while Egypt seems to be going backward with President Hosni Mubarak’s government solidifying its hold on the levers of power.
Still, Egypt is hoping for improved ties with the United States under President Barack Obama after the Bush administration called for reform by Mubarak and after years of strains over the staunch U.S. ally’s human rights record.
The Obama administration has already hinted it won’t hinge its relationship with Egypt on human rights demands, moving away from former President George W. Bush’s ambitious — or overreaching, as some in the region felt — claims to seek a democratic transformation in the region.”
Already some people in Cairo are nostalgic (or have been nostalgic for several years) for that 2004-2005 moment when the Bush administration was publicly, relentlessly, critical of Egypt’s lack of political reform. Ironically Obama, with his charisma, could make an even better democracy promoter than Bush, whose neo-conservative version of democracy promotion appeared like a barely concealed fig leaf for a pro-interventionist, pro-Israeli Middle East policy. The problem remains the same: how do you craft a successful democracy-promotion policy? Can you do so when you have a strategic alliance with a repressive state? I think government-to-government pressure has limited effectiveness, especially when Egypt is such as a great counter-terrorism and regional diplomacy ally. Or when you’re unwilling to reconsider over $1bn of military aid that subsidizes your own military-industrial complex and irrigates the backbone of the regime. (sorry for the terrible mixed metaphor.)
The way to go may be lobbying in the US, EU against businesses involved in Egypt and naming and shaming politicians that support Egypt. But even then you run the risk of becoming the useful idiot of those who claim to be concerned about democracy in Egypt but are merely cynically adding a card to play in regional politics.