Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy’s visit to Washington this week has come at an awkward juncture in U.S.-Egyptian relations. Egypt has faced international criticism and condemnation from human rights groups following the mass death sentence an Egyptian court leveled earlier this week against 680 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. As one of Egypt’s main military backers, the U.S. has not been spared from scrutiny — a fact Fahmy has taken into account in his defense of the relationship.
Speaking to NPR on Wednesday, the minister described relations between the two countries in the following terms:
It’s like a marriage. It’s not a fling; it’s not a one-night affair. This is something, if you’re going to invest in it, it’s going to cost you a lot of money, it’s going to take time, and you’re going to have to make a lot of decisions . . . I think it’s well-founded, but any marriage has its hiccups.
‘Hiccups’ may be a bit of an understatement. However, Fahmy’s marriage analogy acknowledges that despite the tumult that has characterized Cairo’s relations with Washington over the past year since a military-backed coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected government, the fundamental framework of the alliance remains intact.
Indeed, the Obama administration’s plans to keep military aid flowing to Egypt even as the country’s military-led government grows increasingly authoritarian shows that despite initial wavering over the course of its relations in the wake of the coup, Washington is as firmly committed to maintaining the alliance. This has not come without challenges. Senator Patrick Leahy’s block on the next batch of military aid shipments on Tuesday, citing the “appalling abuse of [Egypt’s] justice system” is a notable example of the kind of pressures the administration will continue to face as it continues to maintain this increasingly untenable stance on Egypt.
Leahy has been joined by other legislators, including Rep. Gerald E. Connolly in his rebuke of the administration’s policy. While these criticisms may be mounting in Washington, the State Department has nonetheless done its best to welcome Fahmy while conveniently muting it concerns on key issues, including the recent decision to outlaw the April 6 movement, a key political faction in Egypt’s 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime. The divide between the White House’s position and that of key legislators (many of whom are from the president’s own party) oddly parallels the distance Egypt’s government is trying to draw between itself and the country’s judiciary, which it maintains is independent. Maintaining these lines between the various branches of government in both countries will be key in preserving the illusion that this alliance can continue to work.