The Working Group on Egypt – Then and Now

By , January 29, 2011 8:04 pm

The Working Group on Egypt, a group of foreign policy experts brought together by Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sent a letter to Secretary Clinton April 7, 2010, encouraging her to promote democratic reform in Egypt “in advance of the upcoming . . . parliamentary elections [in 2010] and a presidential election in 2011 . . .”

To me the nut paragraph–the paragraph that virtually jumped off the page–was this one and especially the first sentence (bolded emphasis mine):

The choice is not between a stable and predictable but undemocratic Egypt on the one hand, and dangerous instability and extremism on the other. There is now an opportunity to support gradual, responsible democratic reform. But the longer the United States and the world wait to support democratic institutions and responsible political change in Egypt, the longer the public voice will be stifled and the harder it will be to reverse a dangerous trend. Already there are signs that the Egyptian government plans to restrict opposition candidacies and civil society monitoring of the elections.

Secretary Clinton quickly responded. In a letter dated April 10, 2010, she wrote:

The United States supports free, fair, and transparent elections in Egypt as in any part of the world. Although the decision of who will run in or win the elections belongs to the Egyptian people alone, we have consistently encouraged the Egyptian government to adopt further political reforms to open political processes to wider participation and representation. We also believe it is important for Egypt to expand public discourse and relax restrictions on NGOs, political parties, journalists, and bloggers. Such action would increase the space for greater political participation and lead to greater transparency in Egypt’s electoral process.

Senior Administration officials have engaged with the Government of Egypt in an ongoing, important dialogue with Egyptian civil society representatives and NGOs who share the desire for political reform and expanded democratic participation in Egypt. This Administration values its dialogue on these issues.

A month later, the Working Group wrote again, emphasizing the need to act now and to persuade Mubarak to “lift the state of emergency now, as the critical election period begins.”

That was then, now is now. Egypt is in an uproar, many of its citizens having taken to the streets. Today the Working Group issued a statement that, among other things, asked the Obama administration to press the Egyptian government to “publicly declare that Hosni Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election,” and for the administration to “suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until “the government accepts and implements these [and other] measures.”

According Laura Rozen at Politico, Kagan, has not been impressed with the Obama administration’s efforts:

“We are paying the price for the fact that the administration has been at least of two minds on this stuff, and we should have seen it coming,” said Robert Kagan, co-chair of the bipartisan Egypt working group, regarding what many analysts now say is the inevitable end of Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year reign as Egypt’s president.

Though the Obama administration has tried to look like it’s not picking sides in urging restraint from violence amid five days of Egyptian unrest calling for Mubarak to step down, “the U.S. can’t be seen as neutral when it’s giving a billion and a half dollars” to prop up the Mubarak regime, Kagan said.

I’m just getting up to speed on what’s happening in Egypt. In any case, I am not an expert on Egypt–or even the Middle East. Nevertheless, I’ve been concerned about Mubarak for a long time. I’ve been equally concerned that the Realists don’t get it: long term, guys like Mubarak are not good for their people–a given–and not good for the United States. We should have been encouraging him to retire a long time ago. We shouldn’t be supporting him now.

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