Two years after the Police Day demonstrations that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from office, Egypt’s political transformation has only just begun. The uncertainty that necessarily accompanies this change presents particular dilemmas for the United States, for whom partnership with Egypt has been a bedrock of regional policy for decades. Bedeviled by uncertainty and mutual mistrust, U.S.-Egyptian ties have been fraught since the revolution — and on both sides there are those who say it’s time to cut the cord. Yet these two countries still have many core interests in common and, as the November 2012 Gaza crisis proved, they can work together effectively to advance them.
For the United States, Egypt’s revolution presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more robust and reliable strategic partnership than was ever possible before, based on mutual interests with a government rooted in the consent of the Egyptian people and accountable to them. But realizing this opportunity will require an adroit, long-term approach, one that eschews transactional bargains with specific Egyptian actors in favor of a consistent commitment to supporting the emergence of a pluralistic Egyptian political system.
U.S. policy toward Egypt since the revolution has rested on two pillars: preserving Egyptian-Israeli peace and the security of their shared border, and trying to support and stabilize a teetering Egyptian economy. The first has led the U.S. government to keep U.S. military aid to Egypt and other security ties as unchanged as possible; the second has led to a diligent if ineffective effort to provide economic assistance (stymied by poor Egyptian decision making, as well as political and budgetary dysfunction in Washington).