x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Little room left in region for western influence

Western governments were quick to condemn the military crackdown in Egypt but what little action was taken was largely symbolic. This lack of a substantive response highlights their diminished role in the region. Analysis by Omar Karmi

LONDON // As Egypt's government reaches again for emergency powers of the type that defined the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, reaction from western capitals has been swift and harsh - but will probably prove to be completely ineffectual.

Although shock and dismay were displayed across the board, substantive action was limited.

The United States cancelled joint military exercises, Denmark cut aid and Norway froze export licences.

There are few avenues open to the West to influence events in Egypt.

The most potent point of western pressure, the US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in aid the US gives Egypt each year, cuts both ways.

Without it, would Washington have been able to stay the hand of the Egyptian military like it did in 2011, when public protests forced Mubarak out of office?

And yet with it, six weeks of EU-US diplomacy failed to achieve exactly that this time around.

Western ability to influence events across the region has, in fact, been declining in recent years.

Syria remains ablaze despite sanctions and threats. Libya is constantly teetering on the brink. Iraq remains chaotic, 10 years after the US-led invasion.

The Palestinian-Israeli peace process may be back on the merry-go-round, but not even the most starry-eyed of observers believe it stands any chance of success.

Here, too - perhaps here, especially - the limits of western influence are clear.

Nowhere has the old division between the EU's carrot of development aid and trade and the stick of US opprobrium been so obviously ineffectual.

There is a potential for a snowball effect. The less influence western capitals are seen to have over events, the less political capital leaders are likely to want to stake on moribund interventions, political or otherwise.

In turn, the less attention countries in the region are likely to pay to western wishes.

The US also seeks to "pivot" toward China. For better or worse, this could leave the countries of the region to solve their problems on their own.

"America cannot determine the future of Egypt," the US president, Barack Obama, said yesterday in his first remarks on the Egyptian troubles. "That's a task for the Egyptian people."

The question now is, can the US and the West in general even influence that future - and what influence would the countries of the region like western countries to have?

okarmi@thenational.ae