Ambassador Edward Gabriel on Egypt

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

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Should the US declare the military action in Egypt a coup?

I do not believe the US should declare the military action in Egypt a coup.  Quite frankly, we are caught between a rock and a hard place. We should not support any anti-democratic actions there, but realpolitik suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government of Egypt did not, and will not reflect US democratic values, as well as a number of our most important interests, in the region. The government clearly did not perform very effectively and according to the wishes of the people of the country, which was to fix the economy, restore public safety, and provide needed services. 

The fine line that the US is walking, which seems to be it is taking its time in condemning the actions of the military action, urging caution regarding the withdrawal of US aid, and strongly issuing the necessary rhetorical support for democratic actions, is the best we can hope for from a US stance.  We should be calling for a coalition transitional government be formed which will stabilize the situation before elections are called. 

Should the US be more worried about an Islamist or a military-dominated government there?

In my opinion, I think we should be worried about an Islamic government.  My long experience in the region, which has included many hours of discussion with Islamic leaders, suggests that their governmental parties are determined to mix religious – Islamic- beliefs with government policies.  For Americans, this violates our fundamental value and constitutional foundation of separating church and state. Having worked to bring Evangelicals and Muslims to better understand each other’s religions through group visits between the Arab world and US, I learned that they share a common view involving their strong religious preferences in shaping government decisions, one from a Christian centric viewpoint, and one from an Islamic point of view.  Neither of these representations is in America’s interest nor reflects our constitutional heritage. This is not to say that we can deny the Islamic heritage of Egypt’s Muslims, nor our own mutli-religious heritage for that matter, but government policy should be for the people, not for a party.

There is no doubt that the military will better represent US interests in the region.  The problem is that they don’t represent our values of democratic process, and America cannot be on the wrong side of the democracy argument.  I believe we have to continue to counsel the military to support the formation of a coalition government, which will have time to stabilize the country before new elections are called and a new constitutional process is agreed.  If the military states its position in this regard, the US should work with them on a democratic way forward.

Does it matter what the US government says to Egyptian leaders and to the Egyptian public?

What we say does matter, either positively or negatively.  On the one hand we do not have a dependable track record and our influence and comments can hurt as much as help.  We often became the scapegoat for the problems that now exist in the region, and worse, we are known to walk away from problems that we have had a hand in, thus leaving the situation worse than when we found it.  In Egypt I recently saw a banner that said, “we hate the American government, we love the American people”. 

Having said that, all governments in the region know that we are a vital player in solving regional problems, and they continue to believe in American values and the American way. Whether governments like us or not, they know we are indispensable in finding and implementing solutions.  In the end there will be no solution that is good for the US without our moral and active leadership. We are seeing what our lack of leadership in Syria has brought us.  What we say and what we do therefore does matter in Egypt.

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