By Angela Wu ’12
The U.S. has a delicate balancing act to preserve in Egypt, said Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Egypt and the S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies, at a talk in the Woodrow Wilson School Feb. 1.
“The shelf life of my analysis is about an hour,” he joked. Just before the talk, President Hosni Mubarak had announced that he would not run for reelection. What leadership will take Mubarak’s place is still unclear, as demonstrators begin to call for regime change.
Kurtzer said that the opposition lacked a “natural leader,” though Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has become in some ways the face of the movement. He also cautioned that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, potentially could “hijack” the political situation in order to achieve its goal of making Egypt an Islamist state.
The uncertainty makes the delicate job of both maintaining a strong relationship with Egypt and supporting democracy more difficult for the U.S.
“What we’re trying to do is let people of the region know that we will not walk away from a steadfast ally but we will also expect our allies to promote democracy and change,” said Kurtzer, who added that the Obama administration has done an “extraordinarily good job” at “finding its voice” on the crisis.
Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and a lecturer in public policy at the University, also answered questions about the potential spread of unrest, saying that the protests will have a “ripple effect” in the region.
“No head is going to sleep peacefully tonight, but I don’t see massive demonstrations,” she predicted. “Some governments are trying to get ahead of the curve, trying to address a common theme in Tunis, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, which is really jobs.”
Kurtzer spoke to a capacity crowd in Dodds Auditorium as part of the Woodrow Wilson School’s “up to the minute” lecture series on current events. A simulcast room also was filled.