America and Egypt

The big snow storm that poured in over Oklahoma and continued over the plains northward to Kansas and Missouri, and up to Chicago, Detroit and finally to New York and Boston and New England, is over. Here in Washington we escaped the storm – thankfully. Everyone who has lived in the U.S. capital knows that even only an inch or so of fresh snow can paralyze the city – close schools, block roads, lose power for hundreds of thousands of customers, often for days at a stretch.
This happened after a storm just a little over a week ago, but this week’s massive storm never reached Washington, and today the sun shines, and with a thin blanket of snow on the ground, it is both warm and beautiful.
While much of the country was struggling against the elements, the political Washington’s attention was focused on Egypt and events there. Crisis in Egypt has put the Obama Administration’s and the traditional American foreign policy in the Middle East under severe pressure. The Administration is currently balancing cautiously between the searches for stability while at the same time supporting the young democracy movement in the Middle East. President Obama’s stated support for the protesters and his call for that now, underline “now”, is the time for President Hosni Mubarak to reform and democratize Egypt’s politics, did not sit well with the Egyptians, according to American newspaper reports. On the contrary. But so far the White House stood its ground.
The question now is how the U.S. stance could be impacted by the fact that peaceful the demonstrations have turned into violent street battles with hundreds of deaths as a result. Reports like the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s eyewitness report from Tahrir Square in Cairo on Thursday about armed pro-Mubarek thugs assaulting peaceful pro-democracy protesters have certainly contributed to further weakening support in this country for Mubarek.
Whenever this country finds itself in a foreign policy crisis, the political opposition has traditionally backed the president’s policies. That is also the case now, as witnessed by the Republican presidential candidate in 2010, John McCain, who on Wednesday called for Mubarek to resign and immediately start the preparations for free and democratic elections later this year. McCain’s statement must have been welcomed by the White House, for it is obvious that America is facing a foreign policy crossroads where its traditional Middle East policy is at stake. At such a time, bipartisan consensus is of great importance.
Democracy is at best extremely fragile in the Middle East. U.S. allies make up almost all of the various forms of dictatorships. What is their future and what is the future of their relations with the United States? And what does all this do to the American-Israeli relationship? Can the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 be threatened?
These are important questions. Crucial questions. But there are no definitive answers to them today. However, nothing seems impossible when Egypt, both the U.S. and Israel’s most important ally in the Arab world, faces such an uncertain future.


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