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Pursuing Ideals or Protecting Interests in Egypt?

What to Do About Egypt

Speakers: Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Coauthor, Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution
Daniel C. Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel; Coauthor, The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011
Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, College Park; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Author, The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
December 4, 2013

Event Description

With the Muslim Brotherhood sidelined for the time being and the military once again firmly in charge, the Egyptian political landscape has settled into a three-way stalemate between the Islamists, secular liberals, and old-guard elites. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland discuss with CFR President Richard N. Haass what the goals of U.S. foreign policy should be, how much influence the United States still has, and whether idealism and realism are at odds in policymaking toward Egypt.

Event Highlights

Shibley Telhami on the Muslim Brotherhood's enduring political power:

"A lot of people—in fact, everyone I talked to believes that if there are parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood will run, either by supporting independent candidates or as a party. If they run, the system obviously will change. If they don't, I think they're going to have a choice and, personally, I think if—if the military makes the mistake of thinking they can simply crush them, it will come back to haunt them."

Daniel Kurtzer on the United States' influence on the current Egyptian leadership:

"Shibley is also 100 percent right that the value of the American relationship to Egypt in terms of our ability to influence Egyptian decision-making is at an all-time low. There's no question about it, and not just because of the diminution of our aid, but also because the Egyptians now perceive either that we are totally in bed with the Brotherhood or totally in bed with the military. And everybody in Egypt distrusts us. Everybody."

Thomas Carothers on how democracy promotion is vital to U.S. strategic interests in Egypt:

"But you guys keep slipping back and thinking democracy is just about principles. If we want to see an Egypt which is stable and coherent over time, Egypt has changed. We cannot go back to the old ways of thinking of relationship management with the military institution and simply say that democracy is a nice extra. If Egypt does not manage to become a more inclusive society, it will be racked by instability, radicalization, and other things that are bad for our hard security interests. This is not a tradeoff between our democratic principles and our hard interests. This is a time and a place where we have to see that they're interlinked."

This meeting is part of the "What to Do About" series, which highlights specific issues and features experts who put forward competing analyses and policy prescriptions in a mock high-level U.S. government meeting.

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