The conduct of the Egyptian state will determine how the global community responds to it. The coming months will be a test in that regard.
Egypt begins to redraw its relations with its partners
Since the partial suspension of American aid to Egypt in early October, there have been suspicions that the American-Egyptian relationship has been in jeopardy. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that the Egyptian administration is looking to build links with Russia, in order to provide it with alternative sources of military hardware. With the visit of John Kerry to Egypt a few days ago, and other incidents over the last few weeks, such assumptions might be best taken with a pinch of salt. Indeed, it may be that Egypt’s political isolation on the international scene becomes less acute.
The timing of Mr Kerry’s trip could not have been more problematic. The following day was the first hearing in the now adjourned trial of Mohammad Morsi, the former Egyptian president.
But that may have been precisely the point: Mr Kerry made it clear that regardless of the trial of Mr Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the United States supports the Egyptian interim government’s road map. Mr Kerry went further, however, and he brought up, without being prompted, the subject of American foreign aid to Egypt, and confirmed that the suspension should not be viewed as a critical event.
The recalibration of Egypt-US relations, exemplified by this partial suspension of aid, had little to do with the transfer of power from an elected president to a popularly supported military. Rather, it had to do with the manner in which the government had dispersed the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August and the resulting civilian casualties.
Some in the US predict that once parliamentary elections take place in Egypt – they are expected in the spring – that aid will be quickly reinstated. The return of Mr Morsi is certainly not part of American calculations.
The question is: will Egypt be isolated from other international partners? In particular, three: the European Union, Qatar and Turkey.
With regard to Qatar, it is, as yet, unclear. Qatar’s political establishment sent mixed signals in the aftermath of Mr Morsi’s ousting, and some wondered if the new government in Doha was interested in taking a fresh approach to Egyptian politicians. Nevertheless, key Qatari institutions, particularly the state-funded Al Jazeera news network, did not show any changes in their coverage of Egypt.
That would leave the European Union and Turkey. Turkey’s relations with Egypt have improved over the last couple of months – Turkey’s ambassador to Egypt has returned after having been called back to Ankara for consultations, and recently held a well-attended reception in Cairo on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
Despite the stern remarks of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, in the aftermath of Mr Morsi’s departure, Ankara appears to be reconciling itself to the fact that Egypt’s interim government will not be replaced by a Morsi-led administration.
The Turkish administration may yet wait until presidential elections, rather than parliamentary ones, take place in Egypt, before relations between Cairo and Ankara dissipate properly.
The final piece in the puzzle is the European Union – a collection of states that has been particularly careful about how it describes the departure of Mr Morsi. A number of European diplomats in Cairo have taken great pains to express regret that the democratic experiment was suspended in July, but recognise that the military had huge popular support.
These governments too have taken particular steps – not so much in response to the overthrow, or indeed to a rejection of the interim government’s proposed road map, but out of concerns with regards to the violence of the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters in August. What most will tend to say behind closed doors, however, is that if the road map is actually followed, and elections take place as planned, relations with Egypt will return to normal within a short period of time.
There is, however, a potential spoiler to all of these scenarios – and that would be the interim government itself.
All of the above may be affected by the decisions of the Egyptian state – when the dispersal of the sit-ins took place, for example, these governments felt a need to respond. If similar actions take place that such governments feel will affect Egypt’s stability, all bets are off, and the Egyptian government may become its own worst enemy.
It does not have complete freedom within the international community, but it does have a great deal of leeway, considering the centrality of the Egyptian state in the region, and its importance.
The Egyptian state holds all the keys in this regard. Its conduct will ultimately determine how the international community responds to it.
Dr HA Hellyer is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, Brookings and ISPU
On Twitter: @Hahellyer