Ask a Senior Analyst — Dr. Michael Sharnoff

Sharnoff

Editor’s Note: Wikistrat’s Facebook followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A drill with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts — Dr. Michael Sharnoff.

Dr. Sharnoff is founder and editor of Sharnoff’s Global Views, a new global op-ed forum featuring original content about politics, economics, technology, the environment and other relevant issues. Michael completed a PhD in Middle East Studies at King’s College, London, and his dissertation examines Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s perceptions and responses to peace. Dr. Sharnoff’s research interests include Arab-Israeli relations and contemporary Middle Eastern history. He has congressional experience on Capitol Hill; worked at influential policy centers in Washington; and has written extensively on the Middle East.

 

Joshua Grant: Would it be prudent for the U.S. to rapidly develop a pro-Palestinian policy? (e.g. Unilaterally breaking the Israeli blockade, taking over all aide and transit.)

Answer: The U.S. has adopted a pro-Palestinian policy by providing hundreds of millions in aid to Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Washington encourages negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and Secretary of State John Kerry has met with the Palestinian leadership six times for peace talks since April.

Although Palestinian public declarations often contradict what is said during private talks, the United States and Palestinian Authority share a similar vision concerning the borders of what a future Palestinian state would look like: ‘67 boundaries with mutual land swaps. Major differences exist on Jerusalem, refugees and the so-called “right of return.”

I think the best course of action for the U.S. is to continue encouraging peace talks without hyping expectations. The last time the media sensationalized peace talks and expectations were high at Camp David with Clinton, Barak and Arafat, we witnessed terrible violence with the second intifada.

 

Graham O’Brien: I was wondering what your opinion is on how the current Egyptian crisis may in turn affect other nations impacted by the Arab Spring.

Answer: The overthrow of Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military will strengthen and embolden Jordanian King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – but for different reasons.

Abdullah, a close U.S. ally with good relations with Israel, was the first Arab leader to congratulate the Egyptian military. Morsi’s ouster and political decline of Muslim Brotherhood power in Egypt will be a setback for the political wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, who until recently posed the greatest challenge to the Jordanian monarchy. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is still popular, but is now more cautious after seeing what has happened in Egypt. It does not want to overreach its hand by providing the King an excuse to crack down.

Abdullah will capitalize on the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to effectively govern in Egypt. He will convey to the West a similar refrain like Hosni Mubarak: “It’s either me or the Islamists.” And if the Islamists win, he will argue, they will abrogate the peace with Israel, align with radicals and be hostile to the West.

Assad, who is neither an ally of the West or Israel, is fighting a largely Sunni-Muslim insurgency. Some Syrian rebels are inspired by Islamist ideology. Morsi supported the rebels and called for Assad’s deposal.

When protests in Egypt heated up against Morsi in July, Assad, somewhat ironically, called for Morsi to abdicate. When Morsi was ousted, Assad boasted by equating Egypt’s struggle with democracy to his battle to suppress the rebels. While it is unlikely Egypt’s new military leaders will form a close alliance with Assad, Morsi’s departure removes the previous state of rivalry between both nations.

 

Jesse Parent: What do you see as the best path forward regarding strengthening Egyptian (democratic) government stability, and/or how likely is that to happen?

Answer: The reality is that Egypt is very far away from achieving genuine democracy, stability and security. We should be humble in our observations and analysis considering it took the United States 100 years and a brutal civil war following independence to begin the process of ending divisions. It took another 100 years for full equality for all of its citizens.

Ultimately, only Egyptians themselves can and must set their own course and path towards democracy and full civil rights. The international community can continue to play a productive role by ensuring economic assistance is used to build institutions, facilitate an atmosphere of transparency and checks and balances, and good governance.

Theoretically, economic aid can encourage the transitional military regime to ensure accountability, transparency, reconciliation and a speedy process towards democracy.

Unfortunately, it is unclear just how much external leverage currently exists. From the Egyptian military perspective, the conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood represents an existential threat. Some military officials would probably like to finish what Gamal Abdel Nasser started in the 1950s by eliminating the MB. Other officers fear that if they concede too much power, the MB will seek retribution for what happened to Morsi.

 

Stay tuned for our next Q&A session on Wikistrat’s Facebook page!

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