Why the Obama administration is giving a free pass to Egypt’s military regime

Marc Lynch writes: Secretary of State John Kerry can’t seem to find enough ways these days to express his acceptance of Egypt’s military coup regime. In a visit to Cairo, he waved away the hard-fought suspension of some U.S. aid as “not a punishment” and declined to raise the issue of the trial of former President Mohamed Morsy. He seems keen to pretend that Egypt is on the road to democracy, and even appears to believe that the fiercely anti-democratic United Arab Emirates is going to support a democratic transition. Most recently, he endorsed the regime’s narrative by claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood “stole” the revolution — by winning free and fair elections, which Washington strongly supported.

Why is Kerry making such a production of supporting Egypt’s military regime? Most likely, President Barack Obama’s administration simply has much bigger regional issues with which to grapple, and has decided that it can accomplish little in a hopelessly fractured Egypt. It (correctly) calculates that there is little it can do to influence the course of events in Cairo due to the pervasive hostility to Washington across the Egyptian political spectrum and the willingness of Gulf states to offset any American attempts to exercise leverage.

It may be galling to many Egypt watchers and Egyptians who consider Cairo the center of the Middle East universe, but right now events there are barely a sideshow for Washington. Cairo has made it quite clear that it has little interest in American advice, and Washington has far more important issues on its plate.

Both Iran’s nuclear program and the horrific war in Syria continue to take priority over Egypt on America’s regional agenda. Closing a deal with Iran would arguably be the single most impressive and important geostrategic accomplishment in the Middle East since the Camp David Accords. Meanwhile, Syria’s civil war continues to inflict crushing human costs and has reverberated around the region, and few of the external players are keen on U.S.-orchestrated attempts to organize a peace conference.

Given those momentous challenges, the Obama administration is likely calculating that if happy talk on Egypt can slightly appease America’s anxious Gulf allies as Washington pushes policies in Iran and Syria that they dislike, then so be it.

That may be dispiriting, but at least it makes sense — as long as nobody is really fooled that Egypt is actually on a path toward a democratic future. But I doubt anyone in the administration is buying their own rhetoric. It may seem strange now, but there was once a controversy over whether Egypt’s July 3 coup should be called a coup. Even though it met the textbook definition of a coup — the military stepping in, suspending the constitution, and arresting the elected political leadership — many Egyptians protested that the masses in the streets demanding change and the perfidy of the Brotherhood leadership made it something different. It didn’t, of course.

Lest we forget, everything that has happened since July 3, without exception, has confirmed the coupness of Egypt’s coup. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military regime has done everything by the book — rounding up and brutalizing supporters of the old regime, cultivating a cult of personality around the coup leader, tightly controlling the media, stage-managing a constitutional process designed to protect the military’s power and privileges, and even promising an eventual return to democracy.

The more obvious the nature of Egypt’s coup has become, the faster Washington has tried to run away from the legal and political implications of acknowledging it. [Continue reading…]

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