Unhappiness with foreign policy brewing for years

By Clifford Kiracofe Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-26 22:00:03


Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying

Editor's Note:

New Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi picked China rather than the US for his first visit to a big power, which has caused some stir. The visit, scheduled from August 28 to 30, is intended to bring Sino-Egyptian relations into a new stage. Is Egypt looking east? What does the visit mean to the US? Global Times invited two scholars to share their views.
Morsi's visit to China is a timely and positive development underscoring China's important role in the Middle East.

For over a decade, Egypt has been restive under its arrangements with the US and Israel. Not only the man in the street, but also significant elements in political, military, and religious leadership circles, questioned Egypt's foreign policy.

It was clear to me during a 2002 visit to Egypt that key secular leadership elements had reached the end of their rope with Washington. Diplomats and politicians were frank about Washington's one-sided pro-Israel policy and its consequences in the region.

An American colleague with decades of experience in Egyptian affairs said that Egypt, given US policy, would inevitably look east as far as Beijing. US financial assistance to Egypt was not a critical matter for Cairo nor was the matter of US arms supplies. Both could be obtained elsewhere.

Former Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat's abrupt embrace of Washington and Tel Aviv was never fully accepted by the Egyptian masses, let alone by the broader Islamic world.

Through Sadat's policy Egypt was marginalized in both the Arab and Islamic worlds. Sadat may have been for a time the darling of the West and Israel, but it proved fatal for him.

Morsi's election presented a new opportunity to leadership circles in Egypt for change in foreign policy. It is logical that important secular elements and military elements will strive for a foreign policy consensus at this stage of Egypt's situation.

For Egypt, a Look East policy makes sense.

The Egyptian leader's stop in Tehran is also positive. The visit gives a boost to Cairo as a reawakened regional and international factor. It also presents the opportunity for Cairo and Tehran to develop friendship and cooperation.

Increased cooperation between Egypt and Iran on regional economic, political, and security matters could contribute substantially to peace and development in the region.

So what does this mean for Washington? There are two fundamental issues here: Middle East policy and China policy. From a traditional perspective, Washington is concerned in the Middle East with four key factors. These are the Arab states, Turkey, Iran, and Israel.  Prudent policy would seek a balance among these factors in the region.

Domestic politics in the US, however, forced a strategic alignment with Israel in 1967, which has limited Washington's flexibility in regional diplomacy ever since. Rising concern in the "Arab Street" about the Palestine question and Israel puts pressure on regional governments. 

Washington's decades old unbalanced pro-Israel regional strategy supported the neutralization of Egypt through the peace treaty with Israel coupled with finance and weapons for Cairo.

Washington's position is now complicated by its strong Arab Spring push. There is a contradiction: The more the US promotes democracy in the region, the more the Arab Street will demand solutions for the Palestine question and perceived Israeli aggression.

What pressure from the Arab Street will mean in Egypt with respect to the peace treaty with Israel remains to be seen.

Should Egypt's Look East policy give rise to a significant revision of its foreign policy both regionally and internationally, Washington may face some real difficulties. These difficulties are made still more problematic as the trend in US domestic politics over the past three decades made the pro-Israel lobby in Washington dominant over Middle East policy. Within this context, Chinese President Hu Jintao's invitation to the Egyptian leader is wise and farseeing. Egypt's Look East can result in constructive cooperation between China and Egypt which will benefit not only the Middle East but also the international community as a whole.

The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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