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America Shouldn't Hijack Egypt's Revolution

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
March 9, 2011
Foreign Policy

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Let's face it: Hosni Mubarak was a strategic asset to the United States. He ensured access to the Suez Canal, upheld the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and kept the Islamists down. He also presided over a foul regime that abused its citizens and violated every principle that Americans hold dear. The fact that the United States supported this now-discredited government for three decades is not lost on Egyptians. And it shouldn't be lost on Washington, either, as it attempts to forge a new relationship with Cairo.

Washington has a long wish list for the new Egypt. Despite its baggage-laden history with the country, the United States wants Egypt to be democratic, economically successful, and a reliable ally. It wants Cairo to regain its luster as a regional leader so that it may bring its considerable diplomatic weight to bear as an interlocutor on Arab-Israeli affairs and a counterweight to Iran's regional ambitions. The United States also wants Egypt to serve as a model for political reform, inspiring countries throughout the Arab world toward a more just political order. This ambitious vision is unlikely to be fully realized, but if Egyptians achieve only a portion of their revolutionary aspirations, the Middle East will be a better place.

Policy analysts and democracy-promotion specialists are already racing to formulate a strategy that matches substantial resources to these lofty aims. They want to provide technical assistance to help Egypt develop political parties, impartial electoral laws, judicial independence, and legislative oversight. They also have plans for economic reform, which include U.S. assistance for debt relief and incentives for foreign investment and increased bilateral trade.

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