Many Egyptians believe the United States is out to get them. Yet at the same time, the United States is the primary supplier of the Egyptian military, and ties between the two armed forces are strong.
Samuel Tadros wrote an engaging history of post-Arab Spring Egypt for the Hoover Institute, entitled “The Follies of Democracy Promotion.”
In it he brings to task the sentiment of past administrations — Bush and Obama included — who sought to pressure Egypt to open up democratically.
Some critics might say it is the underlying relation with the military and the failure to push harder for democracy that makes the United States a popular target. Tadros is cynical.
Regardless, in his conclusion he hits at a very important but often overlooked feature of the bilateral relationship:
Beyond any specific policy disagreements between the two countries throughout the years, the weakness of the alliance stems from the failure of Washington to build a constituency for the United States in Egypt.
As anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories overtook the country, no one in Egypt was willing to stand for the United States, defending the importance of the alliance.
Engagement with Egyptian society should not be limited to Cairo or to the business community, but the United States should make an effort to reach wider spectrums of Egyptian society.
And he offers several rather practical steps:
The US embassy should offer a correction to every anti-American story appearing in the Egyptian media, and those who actively spread such stories and refuse to correct them should pay a price.
A journalist consistently spreading conspiracy theories about the United States should not get invited to the US embassy Fourth of July party and he should not receive a visa to go shopping in America.
Alhurra, the US-based satellite TV channel, should be revitalized to provide fact-based news for Egypt and the region as a whole.
Above all, President el-Sisi should give a major speech making the case for the US-Egyptian alliance, detailing what America has done to help Egypt and refuting anti-American conspiracy theories. If he is committed to the alliance and wants US economic and military aid, he should be required to make the case for America to his people.
America has been content to look the other way as its reputation is trashed, assured vital interests will be [and have been] protected. And Egypt is free to pursue its favored foreign policy, independent of the United States, if it chooses.
‘Hearts and minds’ only go so far in a climate of disinformation. And America must step up to the plate and deserve the good reputation it desires.
But Tadros’ suggestions are sensible. It is strange they have not been widely discussed before.