CHARLOTTE, October 10, 2013 – When the dust finally settles in Washington over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate, media attention will likely return to the Middle East and Egypt.
Slipping under the radar of American domestic issues was a State Department announcement this week that the United States is cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt in response to the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.
SEE RELATED: Egypt gripped by political, economic and constitutional instability
The decision is a dangerous move which could have diplomatic implications in an already fragile alliance riddled with controversy and rumor on the Egyptian street. Not only could the strategy embolden Egypt to seek alliances with U.S. rivals, it could also weaken the stability of our relations with other Middle Eastern nations.
Even under the best of circumstances, stability in the Middle East is merely a matter of degrees of instability.
Further complicating the decision to cut aid is the mutual reliance between Egypt and the United States regarding logistical strategies in the region. Two significant aspects of that alliance are ease of access for the U.S. through the Suez Canal and permission to use Egyptian air space to supply Americana military forces in the Gulf.
Al-Wafd blasts Obama (twitter.com)
SEE RELATED: Egypt and the Middle East: Still major problems for Obama
Egypt’s anger towards the United States is festering out of control in a region that is never more than a lighted match away from a gasoline spill. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that one newspaper, Al-Wafd, went so far in an August 30 article as to make the explosive allegation that Barack Obama is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood
As Jonathan Spyer, a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, points out the Al-Wafd story adds that Obama initially considered the idea of MB membership while living in Indonesia.
Spyer goes on to clarify that the source of such incriminating rhetoric is due to the frustration of Egyptian citizens who are dissatisfied with Obama’s policies. Says Spyer, “There is a large degree of paranoid anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in Egypt. As a result, the anger against the Administration has rapidly and predictably turned into conspiracy theories according to which Obama’s admittedly astonishingly naïve and misguided attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood can in fact be explained by the claim that he is a secret member of it.”
Outrage on Egyptian streets (plus.google.com)
Eric Trager, an Egypt scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes that such theories are commonplace in Egyptian media. Commonplace as they may be, such implications in a mainstream media outlet can have devastating effects, especially in the Arab world.
Regardless of how unwarranted the allegations are, perception and paranoia are overriding forces in the Middle East. Emotions, more often than not, have far more to do with consequences than sound reasoning, and therein lies the danger.
For whatever reason, perhaps because the allegations coming from Egypt are so far-fetched or because American media has been so caught up in domestic affairs in Washington, the charges have been largely ignored in this country.
Absurd as the Al-Wafd article is, the long-range implications bear scrutiny. Truth matters little in the Middle East if the falsehood is perceived to be factual. Ask yourself how long the violence in Benghazi was believed to have been perpetuated by a YouTube video. How much chaos and disruption did that create? If Americans can be duped by such reports, then how can we expect an emotionally charged culture to respond differently to ideas put forth by their own media outlets?
Suspending aid to Egypt without considering the mood of an angry Egyptian population could have alarming consequences for the United States. Saudi Arabia can certainly fill the financial void left by American dollars, but the question is their longevity. A Saudi partnership might be a good temporary ally for Egypt, but self-preservation is a top priority in the Middle East which means Saudi support could quickly change if the wind blows in a different direction.
Other Gulf states, though not as adamant as Egypt at the moment, are proclaiming dissatisfaction with U.S. policies. Diplomacy must be weighed carefully to preserve such delicate relationships. Anything less than maximum awareness could easily result in China and Russia seizing opportunities in the Middle East that marginalize U.S. influence. Syria is one recent glaring example.
That watchful eye atop the pyramid on the one dollar bill must always remain open
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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