Jonathan Spyer is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) in Herzliya, Israel. He briefed the Middle East Forum in conference call on October 31, 2013.
According to Dr. Spyer, the last straw for the July 2013 coup was President Morsi's threatened jihad against the Assad regime. Egypt was being transformed by the Muslim Brotherhood government into an anti-Western Islamist power and General Sisi, though neither a secularist nor a liberal democrat, was anxious to prevent the country from heading in a chaotic and dangerous direction. The general was also alarmed by the growing lawlessness in Sinai, which under Morsi had become a haven for foreign jihadists and smuggled weaponry from post-Qaddafi Libya, as well as a springboard for terror attacks on Israeli and Egyptian targets. Fearing the spillover of more terrorism to Egypt proper, and another Israeli-Hamas military confrontation, Sisi linked the clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood to the fight against the Sinai insurgency - a strategy that in his view forced the Islamists into an unwinnable fight.
Sisi's attempt to crush the Brotherhood, rather than seek a political accommodation with it, has received staunch support from Riyadh and the UAE, with Jerusalem quietly content with the return of the Egyptian armed forces, under a familiar leader, to the helm. By contrast, the Obama administration, though anxious to preserve Washington's privileged access to the Suez Canal and Egypt's role in counterterrorism, has erred in cold shouldering the military regime, while its wider retrenchment in the Middle East has left a vacuum that is being rapidly filled by others. In response to Washington's retreat from the region, the Saudis and the UAE have been financially propping up Egypt, while Vladimir Putin seems eager to restore Moscow's strategic partnership with Egypt.
Dr. Spyer concluded that it only makes sense to embrace the pragmatic Sisi regime. Just as Washington has greatly benefitted from its longstanding relations with the non-democratic Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, and Jordan, so it may well lose its primacy in Egypt to the potential patrons offering themselves to the new regime.
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Associate Fellow with the Middle East Forum