Violence in Egypt could increase as the Muslim Brotherhood, which still commands some support, drops out of politics after the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official for Middle East affairs.
“You’re going to have a bumpy ride because the Army acted with a lot of popular support, but the Brotherhood still probably enjoys the support of between 10 million and 20 million Egyptians,” Alterman said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. He said if the Brotherhood drops out of politics, “that’s actually a problem.”
The Muslim Brotherhood may have concluded “the game is stacked and the only way to get what they deserve is to change the game, not to play in the game,” said Alterman, who previously served as a special assistant on Middle East affairs at the State Department and now directs the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That’s a big change from where the Brotherhood was a year ago.”
Clashes between security forces and Islamist supporters of Mursi have persisted since Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president was deposed by the Army on July 3 after four days of nationwide protests.
President Barack Obama’s administration, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mursi government, should have been more critical, Alterman said.
In the aftermath of the military removing Mursi, the Obama administration is “perceived to be both in bed with the Brotherhood and in bed with the army,” Alterman said. “Everybody’s been unhappy with the Obama administration.”
Egyptians never have been happy about U.S. judgments on their politics, he said.
The Obama administration would be ill-advised to halt its more than $1.5 billion annual aid, Alterman said.
“I don’t think aid is going to be cut off,” Alterman said. Even attaching conditions to the U.S. aid to enforce a transition to democracy is unlikely to be effective, he said.
Egyptians concerned about the political future of their country are unlikely to be swayed by aid conditions, Alterman said.
“And the fact is our Gulf allies, especially Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., who are very, very concerned about the Brotherhood, could write a check overnight that would triple the consequences of American aid and there would be no strings and no conditions,” Alterman said, referring to the United Arab Emirates.
The Obama administration has avoided describing the military takeover in Egypt as a coup because that could force a cutoff in U.S. aid to Egypt. A U.S. law bars “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or a coup “in which the military plays a decisive role.”
Elsewhere in the region, the military takeover in Egypt is likely to be welcomed, Alterman said.
“I think the guys in Tel Aviv are relieved because they always felt they had a better relationship with the army than the Brotherhood,” Alterman said. Israel “never trusted the Brotherhood.” Israel won’t speak up in approval of the army takeover “but the fact is people in Tel Aviv are sleeping much better tonight than they have” in the past.
In Iran, Mursi’s removal is unlikely to be a focus because the country is dealing with the aftermath of its elections that resulted in Hassan Rohani being chosen as the next president, Alterman said.
Iranians are “trying to figure out what the election of Rohani means. They’re trying to figure out how much conciliation they’ll have with the rest of the region. They’re thinking a lot about Syria,” Alterman said. “So I think the Iranians are not focused on Egypt nearly to the same degree as they might have been three months ago.”
U.S. leverage is limited, Alterman said.
“Americans have been trying to democratize Egyptian politics for more than a half century with very, very paltry results to show for it,” he said. “There is that sense when it comes to politics, the Americans just don’t know what they’re talking about.”