Joyce Karam, Washington correspondent for pan-Arabic daily Al-Hayat, offers a sobering assessment on the Al-Arabiya website of the current administrations efforts in the post-”Arab Spring” Middle East. She begins by noting a how a minor recent diplomatic walkback highlights the White House’s contradictory policy:
It was only fitting that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announces another traditional trip to the Middle East on the same day that the U.S. embassy in Cairo withdraws its tweet advancing the case for Egyptian Comedian Bassem Youssef as he faces intimidation from the Mursi government. The two events, while unrelated, show the degree to which the Obama administration has lost touch with the Arab public, and is focussed on pursuing a risk averse agenda that prioritizes relations with regional leaders.
Kerry is taking his third trip in less than two months to the Middle East this weekend where he will stop in Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The goals for now are to boost Turkish-Israeli ties after Israel’s apology, and to push for direct talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The news on the trip was interrupted by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo temporarily shutting down its twitter account, then reactivating it after deleting the tweet that angered Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the office of President Mohammed Mursi. The tweet included a link to the U.S. Comedian Jon Stewart’s clip defending Youssef, who is currently under interrogation by the Muslim Brotherhood government.
Out of Sync
By authorizing the deactivation of account and then the removal of the tweet, U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has chosen the ties with Mursi over speaking to the outrage of millions of Egyptians. In a way, it’s a missed opportunity to connect with those Egyptians, who see in Youssef’s interrogation a slap in the face of freedom of expression, and a return to the Mubarak’s era of intimidation. The embassy did not only withdraw the tweet, but also rolled back the entire twitter feed to the pre-Youssef case. The updated feed (@USEmbassyCairo) does not even include a condemnation of Mursi’s actions, as if time stopped for the embassy on March 26th and Obama’s visit to Israel.
Karam then elaborates noting how the administration’s “shuttle diplomacy” has done little to engage “the Arab street” and missed other opportunities in that regard. She concludes:
… the Obama administration has no coherent message in the post-Arab revolts of 2011. While the Cairo speech in 2009 brought hope that a U.S. President with an Arabic middle name can finally connect with the public, that euphoria is gone and the mistrust in America’s role and political intentions is alive and well in the Arab world. The U.S. is viewed as too calculated and disingenuous when it comes to addressing critical Arab concerns and defending freedom of expression. Syria’s descent into chaos, and Mursi’s power grab -both taking place despite Obama’s warnings- drive this cynicism among Arabs about the U.S. role in the region.