No Such Thing As Neutrality in Egypt

“The party decided the complete withdrawal from political participation in what is known as the road map.”

-- Statement from Nour, Egypt's second biggest Islamist party, declaring a boycott of the transitional political process after the killing of dozens of Islamists outside a military barracks.

The United States funds, trains and advises Egypt’s military.

Egypt’s military has seized control of that nation’s government.

So how can it be that the United States is “not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group,” as the White House maintains?

The Egyptian military, long the most stable and pro-Western element in the nation of 83 million at the crossroads of the Muslim world, seized control following popular revolt against the democratically elected theocracy.

But that theocracy had been operating with the blessing of President Obama, who now says that he neither supports nor opposes its ouster and has no opinion about what should replace it, other than something popularly elected, tolerant and inclusive. He doesn’t care what it is, as long as it is good and well-liked.

But as Egypt, on which the stability of the region rests, quickly devolves from Second World stagnation into Third World chaos, the chances for anything good are diminishing. Fast.

The Obama Doctrine for the region, which is in action from Tunis to Tehran, relies on Islamist theocrats to serve as transitional figures between the American-backed, secular strongmen that previously ruled and the Western-style, liberalism the president sees at the ultimate evolution for the region.

The steps are these: withdraw support for the previous client government (or remove it by force in the case of Libya), arm, aid or otherwise embrace the Islamist opposition with an eye toward encouraging its members toward tolerance, liberalism and pro-Western attitudes, and then watch as green shoots of republicanism and civil society shoot up through the cracks in the old edifice.

But in Egypt, the theocrats seemed headed for a one-and-done approach to democracy in which the Muslim Brotherhood took power following elections last year and set about dismantling the checks on their power. Remember, democracy does not equal liberty, and is quite often the means for destroying liberty.

Obama’s oft-expressed goal in Egypt and elsewhere in the region has been to adopt a less arrogant American policy toward the Muslim world – partnership not preaching, respectful distance not meddling, evenhandedness with Israel not exclusivity, etc.


But neither can Obama have Egypt run by Islamist nutters, since that would mean Israel would soon find itself back at war and Iran and Russia would no doubt exploit the chaos to further enhance their growing clout in the region. Egypt is simply too big and too central to be a Petri dish for Obama’s doctrine.

So whatever Obama may be saying or doing in public about studied neutrality in Egypt, the American-funded and trained military has taken control of the situation. It’s understandable that the president would not like to announce such a failure for his doctrine, but it also tends to make things very confusing for potential allies and enemies in Egypt.

The military can’t make it for long without American support. But with American backing, the generals could certainly last long enough to install something that is less Democratic but more pro-Western than the Islamist interregnum. Call it Mubarak 2.0.

Those in Egypt waiting for cues from Washington, though, are only getting mixed signals. Was this a coup or not a coup? Was the Islamist government wrongly or rightly deposed? What are the conditions for continued U.S. aid? Which side will get American arms and money?

Amid revolution and chaos, self-interest usually trumps ideology. But Egyptians looking for safe passage through these troubles don’t know where their country’s greatest benefactor of the past two generations stands – except Obama really wants them to have a good government and a prosperous country.

The Egyptian military has another chance to act as midwife to representative government and individual liberty. It failed the first time, but perhaps the Islamists, chastened by popular revolt and aware that the generals will not tolerate permanent theocracy, might have come to the re-launch with a bit more humility.

But if America is going to let the generals dangle in the wind, why not go the other way? Perhaps the Islamists can have what they wanted the first time: a hard-core Muslim state that doesn’t have to even pay lip service to all that tolerance and inclusiveness. As the military clashes with Islamist militamen it may even hasten the moment when the United States cuts loose the very army it created.

Seeing as the U.S. taxpayers are bankrolling the military, neutrality isn’t possible in Egypt. Pretending that it is would seem to be poor stewardship of the American investment there.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at