The Obama Administration has faced criticism for reacting cautiously to the protests in Egypt. But Robert E. Hunter counters that Washington has stated loudly and clearly its interests lie with a democratic Egypt.
Washington's national interests and support for democracy have historically been at odds in Egypt
Robert E. Hunter has advised numerous US Administrations on Europe and the Middle East. His past posts include Director of West European Affairs and later Middle Eastern Affairs in President Jimmy Carter's National Security Council. He also served as US Ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton. Dr. Hunter currently works for the Rand Corporation - a nonprofit policy analysis institute - located in Arlington, Virginia.
DW: Mr. Hunter from your perspective what are the interests that the US has in Egypt?
Robert E. Hunter: We have a lot of interests there. Egypt is the crossroads of three continents. It is also a great civilization, it is also a society to which other countries in the Arab world do look traditionally for leadership. Stability in that region is extraordinarily important to the US, to the Allies and to everybody who lives there. The continuation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty - which I expect any Egyptian government to honor - opposition to terrorism, the capacity to be able to operate there commercially, and the flow of oil. You name it - it comes together in that part of the world and Egypt is a lynch pin.
How are these interests affected by the current situation?
If we had turmoil in Egypt that lasted a long time, if indeed we got - which I don't expect - a radical Islamist government that was against everybody in the outside world and welcomed al-Qaeda we would have a terrible problem. If we had an Egyptian government that abrogated the peace treaty with Israel and put troops back in the Sinai that would be a real problem.
I don't expect that. I expect the president of the United States getting the US on the right side of history in favor of democracy, in favor of the people of Egypt is exactly right. He made his historic statement a year ago in Cairo and now he is following through on that by positioning the US for change rather than obstruction to change. That's a big move for the US.
What is the US doing to protect these interests?
Well most importantly, I think, is what the president has been saying, which is that there needs to be a transition and it needs to be now not something later on. His standing with the people of Egypt, his talking about the greatness of the Egyptian culture and the Egyptian nation.
Robert E. Hunter
On top of which there was one almost lucky event that, when this began, the leadership of the Egyptian military was in the Pentagon for one of the regular consultations and it's obvious that the US military worked with the Egyptian military to get them to stand down - that is to play a positive rather than a negative role. When the military declared the other day that they were not going to use force against the demonstrators that was the end for Mr. Mubarak and the opening of a new day for Egypt.
What will the new Egypt look like from an American perspective?
The most important thing is the Egyptian people taking control of their own destiny. It will give them a chance for economic development that has been - to a great extent - denied them by this sclerotic regime that has been there. A country that will show the lead again in the Arab world for progressive movement in this case moving in the direction of democracy. It's going to take a while. Nobody has any allusions that it's going to happen overnight but the Egyptians are really a quite extraordinary people. And I think, given the chance, they are going to make a real success of it.
Is the Obama Administration moving too carefully, cautiously?
When the president of the United States says there has to be change and there has to be transition and it has to begin now - that's a pretty strong statement. He didn't say sure why don't you wait until you leave office next September. No, he said the transition has to begin now. That is a way of saying, hint hint, get out of town tomorrow.
Lets look into the future. The new president, whoever this will be, has to take heed of what the people say and think and unfortunately America, Israel and the West are not very popular in Egypt. Do you expect an improvement in relations between Egypt and the US or do you think it will get worse?
I think it's going to be very messy. There are natural common interests between what the people of Egypt want and the kinds of societies we would like to see built in that part of the world. But it's obvious there's going to be negative time. There's going to be a lot of people scrambling for power and saying a lot of different things and we need to have steady nerves. One thing I think is very important is for outsiders to say nothing about who should lead Egypt. Yes - as the president said - transition, open elections, a new constitution, everyone involved. Those are universal principles. But if we wanted to ruin a candidate for president, we would utter his name at this point.
Interview: Miodrag Soric, DW Washington
Editor: Rob Mudge