“As much as official Washington hopes it can muddle through Egypt’s prolonged transition with its interests intact, the American position in Egypt will change and it will wane.”
– Steven A. Cook

In the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster, three issues were widely debated, namely: the coup instigated by the US and executed by General el-Sisi, the failure of political Islam during Morsi’s tenure in office and what it means for the region, and the dismal failure of the Tamarod movement in particular and the opposition in general to articulate a thought-provoking vision in the post-Morsi era. As for those who subscribe to the notion that remnants of the Mubarak regime can do better than the Brotherhood or the opposition, they are equally mistaken. There is another topic, however, that has got a brief mention - the waning of American influence in Egypt.
Ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to the forefront of Egyptian politics in the 1950s, America’s political fortunes in the Middle East changed for the better. The US was for the first time able to use Egypt’s reputation as a gateway to the Arab world to spread its political tentacles in places that were considered off limits and regarded as bastions of political intrigue reserved for the British. But Nasser’s tenure in office from 1956 onwards changed this and along with it, America’s political influence increased dramatically in Egypt and beyond. Even Nasser’s death did not diminish its stranglehold over Egypt and it was business as usual under President Anwar el-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak - both were true Nasserites and passionate defenders of American interests.
It was not until the huge protests against Mubarak in 2011 that America’s hegemony in Egypt began to waiver. The political awakening of the middle class and their zeal to rule by Islam forced America to rethink its political calculus; Washington was eventually forced to cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in exchange for the protection of American interests and stability for its rule. Morsi and the Brotherhood were integrated with the parts of Mubarak’s old regime and the new political configuration worked under the watchful eye of the army.
Under this new political arrangement, public sentiments were mollified and it seemed America had found a second wind - there was no real challenge to its interests. The Suez Canal functioned as per normal; security of Israel got a boost through the closure of underground tunnels linking Egypt to Gaza, Hamas was put under a tight leash, and at home Morsi was preoccupied with the implementation of neoliberal economic policies.
But the protection of American interests necessitates political stability, and this is where Morsi and America failed in spectacular fashion. Morsi inflamed the Egyptian public through his unstinting support for American policies, share incompetence, and an authoritarian style - reminiscent of the Mubarak days.
The fragmented opposition capitalised on this groundswell of anti-Morsi feeling, which in a short space of time had captured the hearts and minds of secular Egyptians as well as the vast majority of practicing believers. It was the latter segment that had propelled Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party to the fore of Egyptian politics only a year ago. Now this segment had turned against him and called for his removal.
America sensing Morsi’s sagging popularity switched sides - a few months prior to his dismissal - joined forces with the military, and galvanised the opposition into a mass civil disobedience movement. Eventually, Morsi was removed via a coup, which the US refused to call a coup, and America was back to square one.
America is now stuck with vestiges of Mubarak’s defunct regime and is trying its best not to acknowledge the coup. Leaving aside the intellectual gymnastics, it is faced with a hostile Egyptian public (according to Pew Global Attitudes Project in May 2013 only 16 percent of Egyptians had a favourable view of the US - one can only imagine what the figure is now), discredited Nasserite politicians, angry Brotherhood supporters, and an army that is quickly losing face amongst ordinary Egyptians.
If America was somehow able to cobble together a government consisting of Mubarak misfits, neoliberal technocrats, peppered with novices like Mohamed El Baradei or similar personalities, then one is compelled to ask - what will become of Egypt? Well! One has to look no further than America’s handiwork in putting together governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan. Its litany of failures in these countries is quite conspicuous. America’s ability to rule is precarious at best, anti-American sentiments are widespread, and its credibility is almost next to nothing. Washington’s record in attempting to fashion governments elsewhere like Libya, Syria and Somalia is far worse.
With such a dismal track record, the situation in Egypt will not improve and is likely to descend into chaos, and join the ranks of America’s political failures. In sum, America is no longer the superpower it used to be, and it is rapidly losing primacy and legitimacy in the Muslim world. Could Egypt prove to be the straw that broke the superpower’s back? Time will tell. But already some are forecasting a steep decline. This is what Spectator Magazine had to say about US influence: “American influence is now so vanquished that Obama has surrendered almost all of its international leverage.”

The writer is a political commentator, who specialises in Muslim issues and global affairs.