Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt this week to visit with the nation’s transitional government and shore up popular support on the street. Various protests and snubs, however, suggest that the U.S. has lost major ground among the Egyptian population it previously courted.
During her two-day stay in Cairo, Secretary Clinton held meetings with both Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council currently in charge of Egypt’s government, and promised that the United States would stand by the transitional government’s side, help create jobs and would build up foreign investment.
And to get the ball rolling, Clinton announced massive amounts of aid, including $80 million of credit insurance from the U.S. Export-Import Bank and $2 billion from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, an independent U.S. agency. Congress may soon approve $60 million for private investment, as well.
Mrs. Clinton also hit up Tahrir Square, the hub of Egypt’s revolutionary movement. While gazing at the square, Clinton remarked, “To see where this revolution happened and all that it has meant to the world is extraordinary for me. It’s just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and universal desire for human rights and democracy. It’s just thrilling to see where this happened.”
Though crowds of people chanted and cheered for Clinton, not everyone was happy to see America’s top diplomat: protesters demanding jobs gathered outside the prime minister’s office, and some of the revolution’s leaders refused to sit down with the Secretary, saying the United States took too long to support their protests. The U.S. instead watched and waiting, hoping that Mubarak could handle matters himself.
“There was an invitation for members of the coalition to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but based on her negative position from the beginning of the revolution and the position of the US administration in the Middle East, we reject this invitation,” said leaders of the January 25th Revolution Youth Coalition, one of the groups that helped spark the protests.
Obama and his administration have spent countless hours and dollars courting Egypt’s population, and by extension the entire Arab world. The most famous attempt, of course, came in June of 2009, when Obama delivered an historic speech at Cairo University. His efforts paid off: that same year, 40 percent of the Egyptian people had a positive view of the U.S., versus 16 percent in 2008 and 11 percent in 2007.
Though it’s too early to say how our popularity in Egypt has been impacted by the revolution, it’s clear that Clinton’s visit and economic incentives are only the first such gestures the United States will have to make toward Cairo. And let’s just hope they don’t fall into that old pattern: throw money at a government and ignore the people, something that we’ve been doing in Egypt for three decades, because if we don’t change our tactics, we’ll find ourselves in a PR disaster from which we’ll never recover.