August 25, 2014 By Tayyib

The Strategic Partner

Review of Jason Brownlee’s Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the US, Egyptian alliance


Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the US, Egyptian alliance
Paperback: 296 pages
Cambridge University Press (October 4, 2012)
ISBN: 1107677866

In the heyday of counterrevolution against the deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, I had chat with a Communist party member in India over a cup of tea. “I have no proofs to show that the counterrevolutionaries are supported by the US; but we can’t gainsay the strategic alliance between the US and the SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) in Egypt, which might be abetting and spurring the counterrevolution.” “Sheer conspiracy theory,” he said, “What is there in Morsi so that the US frets too much over? If you say that the US is concerned about Islamism, what about Annehda in Tunisia and AKP in Turkey? There are Islamists over there. But the US has extended hands to them. The reason why Egypt was different was that this guy Morsi is far worse an autocrat than even Mubarak. The latter did not have the totalizing claim of Islamism.”

The book Democracy Prevention by Jason Brownlee clearly answers the question posed by my CPI (M) friend. He says that Egypt was different, not because this guy Morsi is an autocrat, but because Egypt is strategically significant in the US imperial plans.  He summarizes it in the following words:  “The contemporary US-Egyptian relationship began after the 1973 War. It was sealed after the Iranian Revolution. After the Great Britain withdrew from Persian Gulf in 1971, Iran became the centerpiece of US strategy in the area. US President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger even discussed with the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, “contingency plans” for Iranian intervention in Saudi Arabia should the kingdom fall.” After Shah fled in 1979, US Defence Secretary Harold Brown toured the Middle East,” in search of allies and arm buyers for the wares previously destined for Tehran. Peace between Egypt and Israel served both the ends.

Egypt’s strategic location neighboring Israel and the Arab monarchies is another reason why the US prefers a plaint autocrat like Mubarak to a popular, democratically elected leader. That is another reason why there were not so many shared issues between the US and Morsi as there is between the former and AKP in Turkey, Brownie says. In the case of Tunisia, there is a healthier approach from the part of the military establishment of not middling with the civil government. Brownie says: “Tunisians changed not only a leader but a regime, in large part because the Tunisian military did not pursue a political role and was not a major geostrategic ally of the west…..”Juxtaposed with Egypt, Tunisia’s healthy tradition of civil-military relations offered a more propitious starting point for democratization…”Tunisia’s founder Habib Bourgubia, did not have a background in armed struggle, and he kept the military small and removed from national politics. Even after Ben Ali pushed aside Bourgubia in a 1987 coup, the uniformed military never numbered more than 35,000 soldiers….”Ben Ali outreached when he called on them to rescue his regime in 2011. Army chief Rachid Ammar refused Ben Ali’s order to fire on unarmed demonstrators, replying that the military would not shoot the people but would instead deploy troops to calm the situation.”


Then what about Turkey, where the military is as strong as in Egypt? There lies the difference between Recep Erdogan’s tactics and Morsi’s inexperience as well as the relevance of Egypt as a strategic partner in the Middle East.

The crux of Jason Bownlee’s argument in the book is the purported foreign policy objective of the US of promoting democracy in Egypt and the total absence of the objective in the initiatives in the realpolitik. The argument is that ‘beginning with the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and extending past the 25 Revolution, the United States has shaped the regime’s longevity in specific and contestable ways. The Unites States has protected Egyptian rulers from foreign threats, heavily subsidized the Egyptian armed forces, and bolstered Egyptian security services. The advantages that the US and its partner Israel got out of this deception were many, sidelining Hamas being the most significant of them. Also, the book argues that it’s easier to have strategic and diplomatic ties with autocrats and dictators rather than representatives of the people. However, according to this reviewer, the strategic ties between the two countries is done in view more of the fear of popular sovereignty than of difficulty to deal with them.

However these polices fly in the face of Carter’s and Regan’s purported aim of democracy all over the world (which they tried to showcase through token gestures of Regan in El Salvador and of Carter in the Dominican Republic), which is further belied by ‘the well-known support by the US of autocratic regimes. George Bush and Condoleezza Rice’s avowed aim in Egypt of ceasing all ties with dictatorship was countered by their alliance with Mubarak with differences (of which the major one being that whereas Mubarak wanted to groom his son for presidency, Bush’s advisors favoured a more seasoned and reliable successor, such as Omer Suleiman). Then there were Obama’s words ‘hailing the victory of peaceful demonstrators in the Arab Spring. He promised to promote reform across the region as the policy of the administration.’ ‘But his proposals comprised additional mandates for neoliberal reform, measures that, if accepted, would likely exacerbate poverty.’ ‘During the uprising, the White House did not promote popular sovereignty but instead backed an orderly transition to one of Mubarak’s cronies. That having been a failure, the US has been pinning its hopes behind the SCAF. With a former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi now being the President, one can only see how the overall attitude of the US will pan out in future.

Being Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, Jason Brownlee has relied on many primary sources to make a brilliant argument in the book. The book was published by the Cambridge University Press in the year 2012. All students of the Middle East as well as general readers who are interested in the area should never miss the book, as it was written in a prose accessible to all. In the context of another Israeli attacks on Palestine and of a more restive Middle Eastern region, the book gains significance, especially because it implies that with the US, there will be a better, more prosperous middle east.

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