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The Egyptian lobbies

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Dr. H.A. Hellyer

Dr. H.A. Hellyer

Since the military ouster of Mohammed Morsi, different Egyptian groups have lobbied the international community more than ever since the revolution began in 2011. The diversity of the lobby is more than probably ever before – and the intensity of those efforts is perhaps unmatched as well. The irony is – none of those lobbying efforts are having much success. Whether from those who support the Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-Morsi camp, or those that support the military backed interim government – the answer is the same. And it generally makes neither of those groups particularly happy – because Egypt is no longer the priority it once was.

There are three groups currently targeting the international community for advocacy purposes – mainly in Washington DC, but also in European capitals, particularly London. (This is not to say they are not finding voices in other capitals as well that are already friendly to their arguments.) The first are those that support the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies in the “Anti-Coup Alliance” – for whom Morsi has become a rallying figure, but is not quite the focus of their efforts. The reinstatement of Morsi is an unrealistic goal for much of that lobbying community – but applying pressure on the Egyptian government via international actors is what the lobby hopes to achieve. What that pressure in itself is meant to accomplish remains unclear – the demands as the Anti-Coup Alliance in Egypt present them are fanciful at best. Given public support for the military, it’s unlikely that Morsi will be put back in the presidency, the 2012 constitution be put back into force, and the 2012 parliament be reinstated. What is more, the centres of power within DC, London, and elsewhere are fully aware that such claims are far-fetched. In any case, the ideological bases of Islamist political forces pushing ahead in the Anti-Coup Alliance are hardly likely to find ideological bedfellows in London, Washington or Paris. That would be the case even if there was not a longstanding relationship between the different military establishments and Egypt’s, or without the fact that there is actually an insurgency by some pro-Morsi forces in the Sinai and elsewhere.

The second group are those pushing for the international community’s relationship with the Egyptian state – despite the suspension of the democratic experiment by the military, human rights violations, and state abuses of different kinds that have led to large scale loss of life – to continue as it has been, essentially, without a hiccup. They’re infuriated that the US administration reacted at all to the last five months, other than hearty applause – and interpreted the partial suspension of aid in October to be a punishment for Morsi’s ouster. Indeed, the assumption is that any lack of support for the interim government ought to be conceived as essentially an expression of support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then, there’s the final group – those that are essentially persona non grata as far as both of the main lobbying factions are concerned. They’re the “descendants” as it were of those who were pushing for reform under Mubarak, opposed SCAF and then Morsi, and are now deeply antipathetic to the military backed interim government. Generally, these account for human rights defenders and civil rights activists, along with some analysts and commentators. They’re not so much lobbying as they are informing – none of them push for a reinstatement of Morsi or his government, but they are all keen to highlight the flaws, missteps and abuses of the current political set-up. This is at a time when a number of human rights organisations have described the forced clearing of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August as the largest example of state-led killing of civilians in Egypt’s modern history: see this latest release by a group of different organisations on that subject (http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/10/egypt-no-acknowledgment-or-justice-mass-protester-killings). This group can’t really be considered to be a lobby in the strictest sense – as it does not tend to promote a certain political group over another – but the irony is that many in the international community tend to wish that this group was a lobby. Or rather, that this group could present an alternative, politically speaking, in the form of a party.

The wishes of these groups notwithstanding, there is a cold and clear calculation presently at work – particularly in Washington, but it is shared elsewhere. Egypt is not, as it turns out, as important as it once was, in terms of the priority “to-do list”. This is for two reasons – the first is that there are a number of other priorities that are far more important and pressing, including Iran, Syria and Libya. If Egypt makes the top five in the priority list, it is, frankly speaking, quite lucky. The second reason ties into the first – many officials in the international community are somewhat stumped as to what they can plausibly do anyway. Taking DC as an example – the American administration has essentially come to the decision that Egypt is a country that cannot really be helped at the moment. The democratic experiment was under a great deal of stress under Morsi, and is currently under suspension. The best the US can do, from its perspective, is to encourage elections and so forth – but that was always going to be the case according to the road-map anyway. The suspension had little to do with the 3 July, and everything to do with the 14 August (Rabaa) – and it is very likely that once there are elections, that aid will quietly make a comeback anyway. It will be quiet partly out of embarrassment, as the administration won’t really be enthusiastic about the prospects of Egyptian democracy – but it will also be because there will be other things to focus on.

For all the lobbying efforts that are taking place, one thing seems to be ignored. Egypt just is not that important anymore for the international community – and certainly not in the cities where different Egyptian lobby groups are active. The reality is – the international community seems to be hoping and praying that Egyptians can just do a lot better than this government or the last. In the meantime, no-one is holding their breath – or shifting policy much one way or the other, lobby or no lobby.

About the author

Dr H.A. Hellyer

Dr H.A. Hellyer

Dr H A Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com .


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