After it was reported this morning that the United States intends to "release at least a portion of $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt," a Brookings Institute Panel this afternoon discussed the future of U.S.-Egypt relations. Shadi Hamid, the director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, said he thinks this sends the wrong message given the current the NGO crisis:
"I think it sends a very dangerous message that right now we're going to resume military aid even though Egypt is essentially waging war on civil society...There's a sense that the Obama administration will back down when push comes to shove, and the Egyptian military is right to think that because we are about to back down, and that sets a precedent for future governments...It sends the message that U.S. threats are hollow."
Hamid added that U.S. favorability ratings in Egypt during the Obama administration have been lower than under the last year of the Bush administration, and that the President's Cairo speech has changed nothing:
"Contrary to the perception that the Cairo speech brought about this new beginning, this new era in U.S.-Arab world relations in the region, that's not quite the way it worked out...The SCAF has in some ways manufactured this [NGO] crisis, but they're also tapping into something that's very much there in Egyptian society."
According to visiting fellow Khaled Elgindy, not much has changed on the Egyptian side either:
"All of what we've seen is actually less a shift in U.S.-Egypt relations than a deepening or acceleration of preexisting trends."
The turning point for the U.S.-Egypt relationship, notes Saban Center for Middle East Policy director Tamara Cofman Wittes, is on the horizon.
"It didn't come last year with the revolution itself, it's coming now as this transitional period comes to a close with the presidential elections and the anticipated handover of executive authority to a civilian government in June."
The U.S. is going soft, Egyptians have always disliked America, and bilateral relations are business as usual. Same old, same old.
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