It may be galling to many Egypt watchers and Egyptians who consider Cairo the center of the Middle East universe, but right now events there are barely a sideshow for Washington. Cairo has made it quite clear that it has little interest in American advice, and Washington has far more important issues on its plate.
Both Iran’s nuclear program and the horrific war in Syria continue to take priority over Egypt on America’s regional agenda. Closing a deal with Iran would arguably be the single most impressive and important geostrategic accomplishment in the Middle East since the Camp David Accords. Meanwhile, Syria’s civil war continues to inflict crushing human costs and has reverberated around the region, and few of the external players are keen on U.S.-orchestrated attempts to organize a peace conference.
Given those momentous challenges, the Obama administration is likely calculating that if happy talk on Egypt can slightly appease America’s anxious Gulf allies as Washington pushes policies in Iran and Syria that they dislike, then so be it.
That may be dispiriting, but at least it makes sense — as long as nobody is really fooled that Egypt is actually on a path toward a democratic future. But I doubt anyone in the administration is buying their own rhetoric. It may seem strange now, but there was once a controversy over whether Egypt’s July 3 coup should be called a coup. Even though it met the textbook definition of a coup — the military stepping in, suspending the constitution, and arresting the elected political leadership — many Egyptians protested that the masses in the streets demanding change and the perfidy of the Brotherhood leadership made it something different. It didn’t, of course.