The Limitations of U.S. Influence in Egypt

On Tuesday, while Americans were commemorating the eleventh anniversary of September 11, a mob in Libya stormed the U.S. Consulate and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif apologized for the “cowardly” attacks and pledged to work with Washington to apprehend the killers. President Obama acknowledged that this isolated attack would not undermine bilateral relations and that Libya and the U.S. would cooperate.

On that same day after a mob in Cairo burned the American flag and attempted to penetrate the U.S. Embassy, the Egyptian leadership has indicated it is not remorseful and that close cooperation should not be expected. The Egyptian (and Libyan) protestors justified their extreme violence from an anti-Muslim film whose origins remain unclear.

Yesterday, President Morsi released a statement through his official Facebook page which did not condemn the Embassy breach, but instead criticized the film for harming Muslim sensitivities and threatened to take legal action against the filmmaker.

After 48 hours, Morsi finally apologized and condemned the attack in Egypt and Libya. In spite of the 1.5 billion in aid given to Cairo, many frustrated Americans are beginning to realize the true nature of the relationship with Morsi and are recognizing the limitations of U.S. influence in Egypt. Unlike the close ties shared under Mubarak, Obama is now downgrading Egypt’s status as “neither a friend nor foe.”

It should be recalled that Egyptian anti-American sentiment has a long history and therefore improving bilateral relations will be a complex process. Following Egypt’s humiliating defeat during the 1967 War, President Nasser and King Hussein shirked responsibility by falsely claiming that the United States and Britain fought alongside Israel. Nasser severed diplomatic relation with Washington and London, expelled the Americans and British and took revenge against Egyptian Jews who were viewed as conspirators.

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