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Clinton in Cairo

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7)    Promoting Western cultural values, education, and lifestyle so as to empower secular, liberal, and "enlightened" forces against their conservative or religious rivals in the heart of the Muslim world.

However, with the unfolding of the Arab Spring the U.S. struggled to cope with the consequences of this phenomenon that brought organized Islamic political forces to the forefront of their societies. The Obama administration concluded early on that reversing this trend is not only fruitless but futile. By late last year the debate was settled within the administration by initiating a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement, the most organized and popular Islamic group in the region.

Nevertheless, many officials in the administration, especially those with a strong pro-Israeli predisposition such as Dennis Ross (when he was part of the White House national security team) were skeptical. Led by U.S. Ambassador in Egypt, Anne Patterson, the dialogue started slowly and cautiously, but quickly expanded to include major administration officials such as Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. On the MB side the relationship is managed by the high-ranking Deputy General Guide Khairat Al-Shater, the most powerful figure in the group and its candidate for president before being disqualified by the Elections Commission for a prior conviction during the Mubarak era.

Earlier this year, Burns sat with Al-Shater in Cairo where the meeting focused on the group's position towards the peace treaty with Israel. During the encounter Burns promised the MB leader that the U.S. could help secure from the IMF and the Arab Gulf countries as much as $20 billion if the treaty is honored. Within weeks the MB sent delegations and messages to the U.S. promising the preservation of the status quo.

The U.S. was as surprised as anyone when the presidential elections resulted in a victory for Morsi and the MB. But it quickly seized on the opportunity to realign or cow the rising regional Islamic forces, especially in Egypt and North Africa, to support the U.S. agenda in the region. The American hard calculation was that the support of military rule in Egypt is not only unsustainable but also counterproductive and would create indefinite instability.

Moreover, throughout the dialogue with the MB the U.S. discovered the group to be pragmatic, willing to do business with the West, play by the Western set of rules, adopt a Western style capitalist economic model albeit with some social safety nets, as well as being sensitive to many of the U.S. strategic concerns, especially with regard to the American economic and security needs. The MB was also inspired with the Turkish model of Prime Minister Tayyeb Erdogan. After a decade in power, the U.S. was satisfied with the performance of his Justice and Development party, which shied away from directly challenging the U.S. supremacy in the region and proved to be a reliable ally on the U.S. major strategic questions.

In June, President Obama met with a large group of major American Jewish leaders in the White House. According to DEBKA, an Israeli website close to Israeli intelligence agencies, the president assured the group that "President Morsi would be required to devote a section of his earliest speech on foreign affairs to the specific affirmation of his profound commitment to the peace pact with Israel." Within hours of being declared president, Morsi gave his assurance that Egypt would honor all its international treaty obligations in a not-so-disguised reference to its treaty with Israel.

In his meeting with the American Jewish delegation Obama also promised that he would not invite Morsi to the U.S. unless and until such assurances are provided. One week after his inauguration, Morsi met with Burns who apparently received such assurances as he extended an Obama invitation in September to the new president.

Meanwhile, Tantawi's military council, which seized legislative powers by dissolving the five-month old parliament and issued a constitutional decree that transferred much of the presidential powers to itself, began to re-assert its power and influence by using much of the Mubarak era state media, bureaucracy, and courts to frustrate the new president. After Morsi restored parliament in early July, the Mubarak-appointed Supreme Constitutional Court immediately reversed him and handed all legislative powers back to the military.

During this brief power struggle between Morsi and the military, most secular and liberal forces surprisingly sided with the military and viciously attacked the president accusing him of power grab and disdain for the rule of law. Put simply their hatred of the Islamic group outweighed their interest in democracy or civilian rule. Many of these groups, including Coptic leaders refused to meet with Clinton accusing the U.S. of providing tacit support to the MB.

A few days before Clinton was to arrive in Cairo, Morsi visited Saudi Arabia on July 11 in his first foreign trip after becoming president. A week earlier a Saudi academic close to the monarchy wrote an article in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper titled "What the Gulfies want from Brotherhood's Morsi?" He asked the Egyptian president to provide public assurances on four major concerns to the Arab Gulf monarchies. They were namely, not to interfere in their internal affairs through the elaborate MB structures in their countries, to side with them against Iran, to favor the relationship with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors over a potential close relationship with Turkey, and most interestingly for Egypt to keep the same distance with regard to the Palestinian factions despite the fact that the Mubarak regime favored Fatah and kept the political and economic pressures on Hamas for years, the same group that shared its Islamic background with the Egyptian president.

Remarkably, within a week Morsi complied with all the Saudi demands and gave several statements addressing their concerns. He assured the Arab Gulf regimes that Egypt has no intention to either export its revolution or interfere in their internal affairs. While in Saudi Arabia he affirmed Egypt's policy of belonging to the "Moderate Sunni" camp as he assured the Saudi monarch of Egypt's strategic alliance with his country, as well as lending support to the regional balance of power in a direct reference to the challenge posed by Iran to the Gulf monarchies. On Turkey, Morsi assured his Saudi hosts that Egypt has always maintained an Arab first foreign policy approach that will be maintained during his tenure.

But perhaps most surprisingly the Egyptian president uttered the same words called for by the Saudi academic when he announced in Riyadh that "Egypt would keep the same distance to the Palestinian factions," namely the Palestinian Authority and its rival Islamic groups. In essence, he promised the Saudis that Egypt would give the same consideration to those who cooperate with Israeli intelligence and security apparatuses against the Palestinian resistance and those who are its main targets and victims.

Against this backdrop, Clinton landed in Cairo hoping to lend support to civilian rule while maintaining the strategic alliance with Egypt's military. According to the New York Times, she was supposed to give a major address in Alexandria but decided to call off the speech for fear of offending some of the rival parties. Throughout her trip, Clinton was met with angry supporters of the military and Mubarak's remnants, who accused the U.S. of supporting the MB.

After her meeting with President Morsi, Clinton, who had just issued a waiver for U.S. military aid to the Egyptian military from the congressional certification of a genuine democratic transfer of power to civilian rule, met with the head of SCAF, Tantawi. During her meeting with the military chief, she promised to maintain the $1.3 billion annual military subsidy and offered another $1 billion aid package that Obama promised last year. But apparently Clinton's open prodding of the military to hand over power to civilians fell on deaf ears. After his meeting with Clinton, Tantawi addressed an all-military audience in a transfer of power ceremony for Egypt's second army. He defiantly stated that Egypt's military would not allow one group to rule over Egypt, in a direct reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The following day, Clinton left for Israel to brief its nervous leaders on her Cairo talks.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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