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© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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Following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the U.S. and its allies into a “Global War on Terror,” designed and inspired by a neo-conservative worldview. The purpose of the war was not only to destroy regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan, which offered a haven to terrorist networks but to also bring democracy to the “Greater Middle East.” “The War on Terror” followed from the idea that the lack of freedom in this global region was the main root-cause for the growth of terrorist organizations. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the centerpiece of this project, which was met with strong opposition across the globe, especially in the Middle East. Consequently, American interests regarding the political structure of Middle Eastern countries were contradictory: on the one hand, U.S.-backed autocrats were repressing movements contesting U.S. policies in the region (e.g. the military occupation of an Arab state and U.S. support to the Israeli government); on the other hand, the U.S. wanted these autocrats to adopt democratic reforms in order to legitimize such policies, which were supposed to ultimately bring democracy to the Middle East. As one of the main U.S. allies in the region and as the second beneficiary of their foreign aid, after Israel the Bush administration pressured Mubarak’s regime in Egypt to concede some freedom to its opposition. Opposition actors, in turn, seized the moment and asked for more freedom. In 2004, Egyptian activists from across the political spectrum gathered in an organization called Kefaya (“It’s enough!”). 1 Assuming that international media coverage would prevent repression, Kefaya led protests against a future candidacy of Hosni Mubarak for the presidency, as well as the prospect of a hereditary succession favoring his son, Gamal Mubarak. In response, Mubarak announced constitutional reforms that allowed, for the first time in the history of the Egyptian Republic, a plurality of candidates during the 2005 presidential election. Mubarak won the election by a landslide, and his party the National Democratic Party secured more than three quarters of the seats at the National Assembly. Nevertheless, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) succeeded in having eighty-eight of its members – running as “independent” candidates – elected, which constituted the major block of opposition within Parliament. By 2007, new constitutional amendments reversed all of the past decade’s democratic gains with the suppression of judicial supervision over parliamentary elections, which had been imposed by the Constitutional Court in 2000. The Bush administration allowed this to happen, in part, because the move did not draw international media attention, and partly out of concern for a potential electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood. New parliamentary elections were held in 2010, but this time the MB, along with other components of the opposition, were forcefully excluded from the Assembly. This strengthening of authoritarianism did not trigger any strong reaction from the West . A few weeks later, however, on Jan 25, 2011, large demonstrations erupted in the heart of Cairo and several Egyptian cities. Demonstrators targeted the regime and its habit of police brutality. Eighteen days of demonstrations and violent confrontations followed with unprecedented international media coverage. The Obama administration could not afford to be seen as an accomplice in a bloody repression of democratic protesters. In turn, the administration did little to support Mubarak and welcomed his overthrow by the Egyptian army on February 11. Moreover, the U.S. supported the military road-map toward a democratic transition, in line with Obama’s   2008   speech   at   Cairo   University , which affirmed his administration’s support of democracy and human rights. The Obama administration differed with its predecessor by refusing to go to war to impose regime change, but not in the commitment to democratization. With Mubarak removed from power, the Muslim Brotherhood first gained power by parliamentary (January 2012) and then presidential elections (June 2012), with their victorious party candidate Mohamed Morsi. The latter, however, neglected to include non-Islamic political parties in his new administration and quickly faced a strong opposition in the streets, led by democratic and secular movements, but overtly supported by proponents of the old regime. The military overthrew Morsi on July 3, 2013, following several days of massive demonstrations. The Obama administration frowned upon the event, but did not dare to openly condemn it, or even to label it a coup (which would have legally compelled the U.S. administration to suspend its aid to Egypt). The Obama administration faced similar contradictions as their predecessor by attempting to apply pressure on Egypt regarding human rights, without taking the risk to sever their relation with the Egyptian military. 2 At first, the new Egyptian regime tried to present some democratic appearances, but at the same time sought alternative foreign benefactors that were less concerned with championing democracy. Funding   came   from   Gulf   states   (like   Saudi   Arabia   and   UAE) , France and Russia provided weapons, and commercial   relations   developed   with   China . This quickly led to a loss of leverage for the U.S. administration. The Egyptian regime swiftly restored authoritarian practices with the bloody repression of an Islamic sit-in in August 2013, the passing of a law forbidding demonstrations in November 2013, and a crackdown on Islamist grassroots organizations, followed by similar restrictions on leftist and liberal groups. In the final analysis, the Mubarak administration was able to regain the upper hand after the 2004-05 Kefaya movement by playing on U.S. foreign policy contradictions in the region, but without any change in its international alliances. Mubarak fell victim to the U.S. return to democratic concerns in 2011, under the pressure of mass demonstrations and international media coverage. The new military regime of 2013 retained the lessons from this experience by prioritizing the diversification of its international support to become less vulnerable to unilateral U.S. pressure toward democratization. Egypt soon after returned to authoritarian practices by silencing domestic opposition. By 2017, the Trump administration ceased publicly advocating a democratic agenda in the region. But the Biden administration may change course yet again and reignite a democratization agenda, especially at a time when Egypt is looking for international support to strengthen its regional position against Ethiopia (regarding the Renaissance   dam   dispute ). If so, political opportunity structures in Egypt during the post-9/11 era may come to be influenced by U.S. precepts once again.
Source: Clément Steuer archive
September 8, 2021 US Pressure for Democratization and Political Opportunity Structures in Egypt since 9/11
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HOME HOME THEMATICS THEMATICS Source: Clément Steuer archive
Following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the U.S. and its allies into a “Global War on Terror,” designed and inspired by a neo-conservative worldview. The purpose of the war was not only to destroy regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan, which offered a haven to terrorist networks but to also bring democracy to the “Greater Middle East.” “The War on Terror” followed from the idea that the lack of freedom in this global region was the main root-cause for the growth of terrorist organizations. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the centerpiece of this project, which was met with strong opposition across the globe, especially in the Middle East. Consequently, American interests regarding the political structure of Middle Eastern countries were contradictory: on the one hand, U.S.-backed autocrats were repressing movements contesting U.S. policies in the region (e.g. the military occupation of an Arab state and U.S. support to the Israeli government); on the other hand, the U.S. wanted these autocrats to adopt democratic reforms in order to legitimize such policies, which were supposed to ultimately bring democracy to the Middle East. As one of the main U.S. allies in the region and as the second beneficiary of their foreign aid, after Israel the Bush administration pressured Mubarak’s regime in Egypt to concede some freedom to its opposition. Opposition actors, in turn, seized the moment and asked for more freedom. In 2004, Egyptian activists from across the political spectrum gathered in an organization called Kefaya (“It’s enough!”). 1 Assuming that international media coverage would prevent repression, Kefaya led protests against a future candidacy of Hosni Mubarak for the presidency, as well as the prospect of a hereditary succession favoring his son, Gamal Mubarak. In response, Mubarak announced constitutional reforms that allowed, for the first time in the history of the Egyptian Republic, a plurality of candidates during the 2005 presidential election. Mubarak won the election by a landslide, and his party the National Democratic Party secured more than three quarters of the seats at the National Assembly. Nevertheless, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) succeeded in having eighty- eight of its members running as “independent” candidates elected, which constituted the major block of opposition within Parliament. By 2007, new constitutional amendments reversed all of the past decade’s democratic gains with the suppression of judicial supervision over parliamentary elections, which had been imposed by the Constitutional Court in 2000. The Bush administration allowed this to happen, in part, because the move did not draw international media attention, and partly out of concern for a potential electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood. New parliamentary elections were held in 2010, but this time the MB, along with other components of the opposition, were forcefully excluded from the Assembly. This strengthening of authoritarianism did not trigger any strong reaction from the West . A few weeks later, however, on Jan 25, 2011, large demonstrations erupted in the heart of Cairo and several Egyptian cities. Demonstrators targeted the regime and its habit of police brutality. Eighteen days of demonstrations and violent confrontations followed with unprecedented international media coverage. The Obama administration could not afford to be seen as an accomplice in a bloody repression of democratic protesters. In turn, the administration did little to support Mubarak and welcomed his overthrow by the Egyptian army on February 11. Moreover, the U.S. supported the military road- map toward a democratic transition, in line with Obama’s   2008   speech   at   Cairo   University , which affirmed his administration’s support of democracy and human rights. The Obama administration differed with its predecessor by refusing to go to war to impose regime change, but not in the commitment to democratization. With Mubarak removed from power, the Muslim Brotherhood first gained power by parliamentary (January 2012) and then presidential elections (June 2012), with their victorious party candidate Mohamed Morsi. The latter, however, neglected to include non-Islamic political parties in his new administration and quickly faced a strong opposition in the streets, led by democratic and secular movements, but overtly supported by proponents of the old regime. The military overthrew Morsi on July 3, 2013, following several days of massive demonstrations. The Obama administration frowned upon the event, but did not dare to openly condemn it, or even to label it a coup (which would have legally compelled the U.S. administration to suspend its aid to Egypt). The Obama administration faced similar contradictions as their predecessor by attempting to apply pressure on Egypt regarding human rights, without taking the risk to sever their relation with the Egyptian military. 2 At first, the new Egyptian regime tried to present some democratic appearances, but at the same time sought alternative foreign benefactors that were less concerned with championing democracy. Funding   came   from   Gulf   states   (like Saudi     Arabia     and     UAE) , France and Russia provided weapons, and commercial     relations developed   with   China . This quickly led to a loss of leverage for the U.S. administration. The Egyptian regime swiftly restored authoritarian practices with the bloody repression of an Islamic sit-in in August 2013, the passing of a law forbidding demonstrations in November 2013, and a crackdown on Islamist grassroots organizations, followed by similar restrictions on leftist and liberal groups. In the final analysis, the Mubarak administration was able to regain the upper hand after the 2004- 05 Kefaya movement by playing on U.S. foreign policy contradictions in the region, but without any change in its international alliances. Mubarak fell victim to the U.S. return to democratic concerns in 2011, under the pressure of mass demonstrations and international media coverage. The new military regime of 2013 retained the lessons from this experience by prioritizing the diversification of its international support to become less vulnerable to unilateral U.S. pressure toward democratization. Egypt soon after returned to authoritarian practices by silencing domestic opposition. By 2017, the Trump administration ceased publicly advocating a democratic agenda in the region. But the Biden administration may change course yet again and reignite a democratization agenda, especially at a time when Egypt is looking for international support to strengthen its regional position against Ethiopia (regarding the Renaissance   dam dispute ). If so, political opportunity structures in Egypt during the post-9/11 era may come to be influenced by U.S. precepts once again.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
US Pressure for Democratization and Political Opportunity Structures in Egypt since 9/11
Written by
A Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Prague.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
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