When Kerry visits Egypt this weekend, he should focus on pushing for democratic reforms, not just economic ones.
U.S. President Barack Obama stood at a White House podium, echoing the pride of the Egyptian people's call for freedom in a speech on Feb. 11, 2011, the same day that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally relinquished power.
In his remarks, Obama told the world, "The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary--and asked for--to pursue a credible transition to a democracy."
In the two years since the beginning of Egypt's transition to democracy, nearly every point of inspiration delivered in Obama's speech suffered a major setback. Even promises of U.S. assistance to Egypt remain only partially fulfilled at best. The most glaring gap in U.S. support to Egypt, however, lies in the arena that can most significantly impact the democratic transition: support for liberals and liberal ideology. With news that newly appointed U.S.
¨[with] Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Egypt, expectations run high in the hopes that the Obama administration can move away from an economy-based approach and instead engage in a new political strategy that supports the transition to democracy and fulfills the president's promise.
Despite occasional threats from U.S. Congress, military assistance to Egypt remains immune to political developments. The Obama administration intensified its efforts to support the Egyptian economy through development assistance and broad transition initiatives while driving support for a loan from the International Monetary Fund. But the U.S. focus on the strategic relationship and economics in Egypt has left Egypt's liberals to fend for themselves. Liberals include not only members of the opposition, increasingly viewed as unrepresentative of the revolution and its demands, but also the local watchdog and civil society organizations.
U.S. and E.U. officials regularly complained of the lack of a negotiating partner in the early days of the transition, and that figure eventually arrived in the form of President Mohamed Morsi - and the Muslim Brotherhood, by extension. As the Egyptian presidential elections came to a close, the Brotherhood had already begun its "charm offensive" in April 2012 to convince the White House and the U.S. Congress of its support for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and free-market credentials. (...)
The U.S. disengagement from democracy promotion in Egypt diminished the capacity for many NGOs to perform their duties, and the trial forced some groups to keep a lower profile. Foreign NGO employees were eventually released, diffusing tension with the United States, but the ongoing criminal trial contributed to Obama's preference for a light footprint in Egypt