Dirty U.S. politics

U.S. Senators John McCain, left, and Lindsey Graham, right, talk during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate by the day, and the flurry of Western “mediators” who have been coming and going appear to be making a bad situation even worse.

Egypt’s crisis has seen the new government make it clear it will tolerate no disturbance to public order, as it warns pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters they must end their sit-ins. As the socio-economic situation worsens and political paralysis deepens, there is growing popular pressure on the military to act against the sit-ins, just as there was earlier popular pressure on the military to remove President Mohammad Morsi, because of his government’s performance on many levels.

But the sides to the conflict have been joined by mediators from the European Union and the U.S.; the role of the latter is particularly worthy of attention.

In effect, high-profile politicians such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have traveled to Cairo in a bid to bring the two sides together. But their intervention has been both distracting and harmful.

In effect, the U.S. is playing a dirty game in Egypt as it dispatches such individuals to the front lines. The White House has made strenuous attempts to avoid using the word “coup” in describing the ouster of Morsi; if it makes such a pronouncement, the U.S. will be obliged to sever its massive economic aid package to Egypt, due to legal restrictions on which kind of governments deserve such funding.

Thus, it is disturbing to see Graham and McCain show up as mediators and then voice opinions that have to do with either domestic U.S. politics or an elaborate game of political blackmail directed at one of America’s most important allies in the region. McCain spoke out and said Morsi’s ouster constituted a coup, while Graham spoke about support in Congress for suspending American aid. Both are Republicans, and it benefits them to score points against the Democrat in the White House. They have the full right to do so, but not when they are trying to pass themselves off as representatives of Washington on an extremely sensitive foreign policy mission.

The U.S. approach on Egypt, as with other Arab states undergoing popular protests and political tension, has been a case of “constructive confusion” because the message is either garbled, or willfully vague. McCain and Graham appear to be doing their best to revive the “Ugly American” image of half a century ago, in South Vietnam, when misguided meddling in that country’s affairs led only to death and destruction.

The Brotherhood can now rely on these two senators – who hold no official executive branch foreign policy posts – for leverage in their struggle against Egyptian authorities. The behavior of the American “honest brokers” is only postponing the kind of healthy, made-in-Egypt solution that is required. The U.S. and other concerned parties should be facilitating Egyptian-Egyptian dialogue, and not engaging in political blackmail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 08, 2013, on page 7.




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