Why Egypt’s Rulers Might Not Like Robert Ford

December 24, 2013

More trouble in American-Egyptian relations.

The White House selected Robert Ford to become the U.S. Ambassador to Cairo after his service as Ambassador to Damascus during and since the Syrian civil war broke out.  Ford has fulfilled his duties admirably by all reports. Then the White House withdrew the pick, reportedly under pressure from the military-dominated Egyptian government, according to Yochi Dreazen at FP:

Sources familiar with the matter say that Robert Ford — the highly-respected, Arabic-speaking career diplomat and current ambassador to Syria — was withdrawn from consideration for the Cairo post after some representatives of Egypt’s military regime quietly indicated that they didn’t want him in the job because of his stated willingness to negotiate with some of Syria’s Islamist militants and political groups.

This raises some troubling questions about inconsistencies in Washington’s policies toward Egypt. To be clear, I don’t think last summer’s coup and the ensuing repression are developments the Obama Administration should indulge or support (see my thoughts here). But it clearly remains important for the United States to maintain strong, positive relations with Cairo – as much as that is possible.  And the folks in charge in Cairo now are decidedly sick of the Muslim Brotherhood. So I wonder why President Obama would select an ambassador for the Cairo post that is perhaps best known for his close work with the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian political opposition as well as more militantly-inclined Islamists.  If President Obama is looking for someone who can facilitate an eventual reconciliation between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood, one would think it would be more important to choose an envoy who inspires more trust with the people currently in charge in Egypt.

Dreazen quotes an anonymous Arab diplomat who captures this point well:

This is a man who is literally willing to sit across the table from Islamists who are worse than the Muslim Brotherhood, so it’s baffling the White House would think he’s the right person to go to Egypt.

Regardless, I have the greatest respect for Ambassador Ford.  I don’t envy the diplomat who eventually does become our ambassador to Egypt and I wish that person the best of luck.

 

Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for the National Interest and the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks. 

 

Image: Broadcasting Board of Governors