from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Is Egypt an Ally? An Update

September 13, 2012

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Is Egypt an ally of the United States?

Yesterday President Obama said “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.”

The problem is that in 1989 Egypt was declared a “Major Non-NATO ally.” Indeed it was among the first group of nations given that status, along with Australia, Japan, Israel, and South Korea.

So it is fair to ask if that status should now be revoked. If it is not an ally at all, it can’t be a “Major Non-NATO Ally.”

More questions: if it not an ally, when did that happen? Is the President really saying that when Mohamed Morsi was elected, Egypt stopped being an American ally? If Egypt is no longer an ally, should the level and type of military aid we give not be reviewed? Perhaps the President did not realize, when he spoke the words quoted here, that saying Egypt is not an ally--or more accurately, is no longer an ally--was a statement with many implications.


When asked today about Egypt’s status, the White House spokesman said this: "I think folks are reading way too much into this. ‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government."

Nice try, I think, and about the best that can be done to fix the President’s error. If ’ally’ is a term of art, how can a country be a major non-NATO ally and not be an ally? Next time the spokesman should try that wonderful old line, "what the minister meant to say...."