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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Egypt: Preferential Treatment? Or Just Low-Priority?

According to TIME, while the U.S. government has not reserved its judgment on Iran over its human-rights record, it has avoided criticism of Egypt, Washington’s biggest Arab ally in the region, when it “exercises similar bad behavior”.

Preferential Treatment? Or Just Low-Priority?

“For Egypt, which receives an annual $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid, the equivalent of Iran's election drama hasn't unfolded yet. Parliamentary elections are still several months away, and presidential elections aren't slated until next year. But there are signs of an imminent crackdown on opposition groups. U.S. silence on the issue suggests that Cairo may be able to avoid the international spotlight in a way that Tehran did not. “

On Feb. 8, for example, Egyptian security forces arrested 16 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular opposition group. The government does not seem to "want them participating in legislative elections or syndicate elections or generally," and it would rather see the Brotherhood "withdraw."

Analysts reportedly say the 2005 electoral reforms that allowed for such a large Brotherhood win were induced, at least in some part, by pressure from the Bush Administration — a policy that many say strained relations between the two countries. The new U.S. Administration is playing its cards differently. Michele Dunne, editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, contends that the first round of the parliamentary elections in 2005 constituted the freest and most transparent election Egypt has ever experienced. But, Dunne adds, "Up till now, I see very little interest on the part of the Obama Administration in raising these issues."

Egypt ranks low on the Obama Administration's list of regional priorities. The war in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli peace process and a growing al-Qaeda threat in Yemen are all outranking concerns. And the Administration has also sought to distance itself from some of the more aggressive policies of its predecessor, which Dunne says damaged bilateral relations with important allies like Egypt. "But I don't think they realize that there is real, observable backward movement when it comes to democratization and human rights in Egypt right now," she says. "And I think that the Obama Administration is going to bear some of the blame for this if they don't get engaged in these issues. Read more here.

So what do you think? Preferential treatment or is Iran just a higher priority to the U.S.? Moreover, where do you think this leaves Egypt? I suppose we will have to wait to see what the future holds! Hopefully Taha Ali, a political analyst at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, a Cairo NGO, is correct and "this time, we're going to see the parliamentary election in the upcoming period, so it's a historical moment for the regime and the Brotherhood." I am somewhat dubious, however, as to whether this will be the outcome. Politics! We will see.


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