In a meeting last week with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, Secretary of State John Kerry praised Egypt for its roadmap to democracy. Specifically, Kerry remarked, “I welcomed Minister Fahmy’s restatement of the interim government’s commitment to the roadmap that will move Egypt forward on an inclusive path to democracy and to economic stability.” Throughout the meeting, Kerry used the words democracy and stability interchangeably to describe the situation in Egypt, but to equate these terms is disingenuous.
In 2011, the protests in Tahrir Square achieved an important goal by removing the former president, dictator Hosni Mubarak, from power. However, elements of this regime have remained. After Mubarak’s ousting, the military allowed for a parliamentary election. The Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been organizing across Egypt for years, won. But on July 3 this past year, the Egyptian military overthrew the democratically elected Brotherhood government and put President Mohamed Morsi, as well as thousands of his supporters, in prison.
A report by Freedom House, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that conducts research on political freedom and democracy, refuted Kerry’s claim on Egypt, saying that there was “no substantive progress toward democracy in the country during the four months since the July 3 coup.”
That there was a military coup against a democratic government was mysteriously left unmentioned in Kerry’s praise of Egypt’s transition into a democracy. Moreover, he did not even broach the issue of Morsi’s trial. Some have speculated that Kerry simply fumbled in his remarks, but I do not think this is the case. In the game of international relations, each nation is strategically motivated by a balance of power politics to maintain regional stability. Kerry was bluntly describing the situation in a way that suits U.S. interests.
The United States has good reason for establishing a relationship with a military-controlled Egypt rather than a democratic one. Indeed, it never officially called the military overthrow a coup, even though the facts overwhelmingly point in that direction. They are calling it a proto-democracy, when in fact it does not even come close. A real democracy in the region can actually make it harder for the United States to exert its influence and national interest. The United States and Egypt share a number of interests in the region, such as partnership in counterterrorism, the Suez Canal and the flow of oil. A democratically elected government might not want to be associated with the United States. The current government does.
This is yet another example of state interests superseding humanitarian interests. Perhaps in the long run genuine humanitarian interests can become part of state interests. But those who hold power naturally want to protect and expand it. Given this dominant ethos in international affairs, it is hard to envision substantive reform.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 12 print edition. Edward Radzivilovskiy is a deputy opinion editor. Email him at [email protected]