President Obama's open support for a civilian government in Egypt runs the risk of forging a chasm in U.S. relations with its Arab ally, according to a New York Times Op-Ed piece
On Friday, the president called on the Egyptian army to swiftly turn over power to a democratically elected civilian government.
Helene Cooper and David D. Kirkpatrick write in their Op-Ed, "the White House served notice that the army in Egypt would continue to receive the Obama administration's support only, if it, in turn, supported a real democratic transition."
They point out that this position runs the risk of causing a rift with the Egyptian army which in their words, "perhaps more than any other entity in the region, has for 30 years served as the bulwark protecting a critical American concern in the Middle East: the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel."
Brookings Institution foreign policy director and former United States Ambassador to Israel, Martin S. Indyk, states in the piece, "What we're doing is saying to the military that if you think you're going to maintain military power, we're not going to support that."
"We want you to play the role of midwife to democracy, not the role of military junta," adds Indyk.
He cautions that this strategy comes with a high level of risk.
"Because the ones who benefit the most from it are the people who don't necessarily have our best interests in mind - the Islamists - who might not be as wedded to the peace treaty as the military."
Egypt announced via state media Thursday the army generals intended to name 78 year old Kamal el-Ganzoury as the new prime minister.
The Op-Ed describes el-Ganzoury as a former lieutenant under the regime of Hosni Mubarak who is viewed as serving the military council.
The announcement prompted the White House on Thanksgiving to issue a statement saying, "The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately."
"Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people," the statement continued.
The Times points out that foreign policy experts believe such a statement is both a significant and risky increase of international pressure on the Egyptian military, considering the military's clout there and the fact it has been a key backer of the United States in a country where there has been a rise in anti-American sentiment and the Islamist political movement.
The Op-Ed underlines, "Of all the countries undergoing tumult in the Middle East this year, there is none more central to American interests than Egypt."
"In terms of the weight of any single country, Egypt outweighs them all," says Rob Malley, International Crisis Group program director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Malley tells the Times that is partly because of, "the historical role it's played in influencing Arab public opinion, and, of course, from the U.S. point of view, because of its peace agreement with Israel.
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