Washington Needs Cairo

Has America’s stubborn position on Egypt begun to soften now that the reality of the situation has become clearer? Has the U.S. come to appreciate the dimension of the dilemma that Egypt is facing in its confrontation with terrorism?

Perhaps one consequence and benefit of the existence of opposing forces within the American psyche is that Washington, which preoccupies people’s minds around the world and is said to monitor everything, has so little real — i.e., not informational — knowledge about the countries of the Middle East and the Arab and Islamic worlds.

While the turn of events may be opening Washington’s eyes, after it has hesitated to deal with Egypt openhandedly and without political maneuvering for about a year and a half, we are also seeing in the media and research institutions something like a theoretical return to the idea of supporting Egypt – even if this shift does contain some enlightened narcissism and familiar American pragmatism.

In the last two weeks, it has become clear that Egypt’s pivotal role in confronting the 21st century plague called terrorism, which in the age of globalization transcends borders and other obstacles — especially in its online form — is being recognized. Hence, the question has become: Are America’s harsh policies on Egypt changing?

It is no secret that the U.S. is in a state of bother about Israel and its security in its confrontation with the Islamic State group and other jihadi groups in the region. Although most operations by Bait al-Maqdis – which recently swore allegiance to the Islamic State group – have been directed at the Egyptian army, the group is planning attacks against Israeli targets on the Sinai border and working to bring them to fruition, according to Israeli assessments.

A few days ago, Jay Taylor, national security team leader at The Washington Times, wrote that “the Islamic State is opening a front in North Africa, where affiliated militants are wreaking havoc in eastern Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — presenting a complex challenge for Washington and its allies in the region.”

The conclusion of Taylor’s report is that el-Sissi is shouldering the burden of waging a fierce war against extremism across the entire region. Hence, the question has again become, does Egypt deserve real and immediate support from Washington, or should Washington punish Cairo?

The preceding question appears to have become a research topic in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, one of the most important research centers in America, and one equally close to both the White House and Tel Aviv. In a research paper, David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics, and Eric Trager, a college professor in the same institute, clearly called upon the Obama administration to help Egypt. Why? Because Egypt is clearly being subjected to a fierce terrorist attack in the Sinai that has, over the last three weeks, killed around 500 security forces personnel. The terrorists there are even trying to imitate the decapitation tactic that the Islamic State group uses.

What does this mean? Put concisely, it indicates that the strategic relationship that has connected Washington to Cairo for three decades, during which Egypt supported and helped strengthen America’s strategies in the Middle East and the world at large, now requires that Washington confront a savage danger. Because the current Egyptian regime has, as Schenker stresses, proved uniquely committed to fighting terrorists, Washington must help Cairo wage that war more effectively.

We wonder, will Egypt’s desire to fight terror stop here, or will it extend to the central issue for most Arabs – the Palestine problem – in which the country has traditionally played a positive role?

In recent statements, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested, after stressing that Egypt is totally committed to fighting terrorism, that Egypt is also ready to do everything it can to push for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry’s comments are connected to el-Sissi’s proposal to deploy an Egyptian temporary observer force to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, if it will help a real peace emerge between the Israelis and Palestinians. According to el-Sissi himself, the deployment would not go on indefinitely, but would occur in coordination with the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president until the implementation of the permanent peace agreement between the two sides is secure.

Regardless of how Egypt’s proposal is received, it shows that Egyptian political leadership is enthusiastic about peace and does not have residual enmities with the Israeli state. What more does Washington need from Cairo?

The facts cannot be covered up. The role Egypt is playing has become clear to the legislators in Congress, who are discussing the possibility of easing the harsh restrictions imposed on military aid to Egypt after the Jan. 30 revolution. Will we soon see John Kerry stand before the congressional committees and call for the release of $575.5 million – the last of the annual aid payments that total $1.3 billion – to Egypt as a gesture of good will from Obama’s Washington to Cairo?

Cairo can find monetary support in many different places, but without chauvinism, the U.S. cannot find an ally as committed to peace and fighting terrorism as Egypt.

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