Barack Obama, keen to break with Bush’s messianic talk about spreading democracy, has worked to rebuild trust with the Egyptian government. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, he spoke of his belief that all people want ‘government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people’, and insisted that ‘we will support them everywhere.’
Yet he has done little more than express mild criticism of Mubarak for extending the Emergency Law, and his administration has reverted to the pre-2004 position of reserving USAID funds for NGOs approved by the Egyptians. Military aid, Robert Gates has made clear, will be provided ‘without conditions’.
Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations has published a ‘contingency planning memorandum’ in favour of continued support to the regime, which, as he describes it, ‘has helped create a regional order that makes it relatively inexpensive for the United States to exercise its power’. Less expensive at any rate than it would be in the event of an Islamist takeover that ‘would pose a far greater threat – in magnitude and degree – to US interests than the Iranian revolution’.
This seems to be the Obama administration’s implicit wager, too. It’s bad news for ElBaradei and his supporters: bad news for all the Egyptians who fear that they will never know democracy because of the ‘American veto’.