THE BLOG
12/23/2014 12:53 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

It's Time for the US to Reconsider its Relationship With Egypt

In light of the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East with no end on sight, what is one to make out of the contradictory relationship between the United States and Egypt. Of interest, is the latest decision by the Egyptian government to deny entry to a former U.S. diplomat, Michele Dunne, to attend a conference in Cairo.

While Egypt is a sovereign state and has the right to make its own decisions, I am perplexed as to how the Egyptian government failed to provide justification for not allowing Ms. Dunne, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to attend a conference in Cairo. Yet, despite this undiplomatic and uncharacteristic behavior by the Egyptian government, the United States Senate's approval of $1.1 trillion spending bill includes a provision that authorizes Egypt to receive more than $1.3 billion in American military aid regardless of whether Egypt continues to repress its citizens, limit freedom of speech and the press, incarcerate journalists, and harass foreign scholars and researchers, among others.

regardless of the Egyptian government later justification (Ms. Dunne did not have the proper visa), these sorts of behavior toward former diplomats, scholars, Human Rights activists, and so forth reflect negatively on a country that prides itself to be the cradle of the Arab civilization. Further, it highlights much deeper issues within U.S. foreign policy approach that the U.S. government is willing to admit. The refusal of entry came as a surprise since Ms. Dunne was invited by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs to attend a conference, titled, "Egypt and the World: A New Era,". The purpose of the invitation was to persuade her to alter her negative views and lessen criticism about Egypt. But, why should she undermine her values, compromise her principles, and lower her standards by praising the Egyptian government when the sole purpose of a researcher is to uncover the truth, suggest new perspectives, and present constructive criticism on whatever issue might be?

What is alarming, in my opinion, is how the U.S. government remained silent over this incident as it did when it turned a blind eye on the military coup that ousted the only democratically elected president in the history of that country or the Arab world --for that matter--. Worse yet, is when one considers how much the U.S. has lowered its standards when it comes to defending democratic values for the sake of not upsetting the balance with the so-called allies. It is time for the U.S. government to re-evaluate its foreign policy toward not only Egypt but other countries in the Middle East as well. The fact that the U.S. government did not address this issue [refusal of entry to one of its former diplomat] with Egypt suggests (a) the U.S. is paralyzed in defending basic principles of democracy, (b) U.S. influence and leadership are in-deed declining, and (c) America is setting a precedent that other countries might act in similar fashion while still receiving U.S. financial assistance. It is my belief that global dynamics: turmoil in the Middle East, U.S. ambiguous and double standards foreign policy, and lack of leadership suggest that America is no longer capable of striking a balance between defending democratic values for which it stands and ability to protect its strategic interests in the greater Middle East.

By not acting, the U.S. is sending the wrong message to the rest of the world that communicates: As an ally, we will continue to provide you with financial assistance while turning a blind eye on atrocities and violations you commit. It is under these sorts of circumstances I question the judgment of those who advise our leadership in Washington. In the case of Egypt or any other Arab nation, Secretary Kerry, for instance, would be better served by advisers with a deep understanding of the social fabric of the Arab world. As I argue in my upcoming book, "More than a Handshake: U.S. Ambiguous Foreign Policy in the Muslim World," this latest event in Egypt, in addition to the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, reveals just how indecisive and politically paralyzed the United States really is in dealing with these challenges in the region -- a region that is always in dangerous flux and where attitudes about and energies toward the United States are constantly shifting.

While these challenges suggest the need for the United States to embark on a meaningful and comprehensive foreign policy, it underscores America's lack of clarity and illustrates limited understanding of the historical, cultural, and tribalism challenges the Middle East presents. The ongoing political upheavals in the region proved that Middle Eastern countries that are traditionally resistant to change are not ready for democracy. As a result, it is pragmatic for the United States to reconsider its political aspirations in the region and be realistic about what it is able to achieve politically there. The key to U.S. success lies in knowing how to carry out that process through the application of a wide array of mechanisms. While this political approach might yield positive results, I'll argue that the Arab world might need decades before it could establish a clear path to democracy.

I believe the mistake the U.S. government made regarding Egypt was when it stopped short of cutting off its yearly financial aid following the coup back in 2013. What should have been done instead is to allow the Egyptian people to hold Mr. Morsi accountable through the ballot box. By removing him from power, most of those, either supporters of Morsi or advocates for democracy, would be suspicious about the merits of democracy, especially when advocated by the United States.

The unjust refusal of the Egyptian government to allow Ms. Dunne to attend the conference highlights, once again, U.S. weak leadership and inability to influence its allies. The question I keep coming back to is whether U.S. interests in Egypt are worth funneling $1.3 Billion of tax payers' money every year as it did for the last 30 years. It is only fair that hard working Americans know where their tax- dollars are spent on; after all, transparency mirrors exactly how a true democracy functions.