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Warning Signs
Cairo Embassies on Heightened Alert

Tensions are rising in Cairo, Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Egyptian officials increased security Sunday around the British Embassy in Cairo, which was closed to the public because of security fears. Other Western governments warned their citizens of heightened danger in the Egyptian capital.

Britain’s Foreign Office said public services were suspended and people shouldn’t come to the embassy building. It gave no details of the threat and didn’t indicate when the embassy would reopen.

Canada, too, has closed its embassy in Cairo due to unspecified security concerns, the BBC reports this morning.

This news is a serious blow to the Egyptian government’s hopes for stability. A slow return of tourists to Cairo has been one of the hopeful signs of stabilization in a country that has had more than its share of trouble in the past three years. But with the UK embassy shutting down its public services and Western governments warning tourists away, the fragile tourism recovery faces a severe test.

For what it is worth, some of us here at TAI spent the past week in Cairo and had no problems. WRM spoke at several college events and found students engaged, attentive, and thoughtful.

The decision by an Egyptian court to drop charges against former President Mubarak has troubled many supporters of the July 30 overthrow of President Morsi. Many fear that loyalists to the old regime are brushing aside any idea of reform or change. Demonstrations, sometimes violent, led to occasional closures of Tahrir Square last week, and many people privately express great concern about the latest developments.

What Egypt needs most now is a period of stability and economic recovery. Tourists and foreign investors need to come back to the country, and the hyperpolarization that divided the country so bitterly after the fall of President Mubarak needs to subside. That won’t be easy; the split between Islamists and nationalists in Egypt is deeper than ever.

Moderation from all parties would serve Egypt best. Even as the governemnt combats terrorists in the Sinai and elsewhere, it needs to open the door to reconciliation with peaceful opponents and move towards the normalization of political life. Morsi’s supporters, frustrated as they are by his overthrow and the crackdown after July 30, need to put the welfare of ordinary Egyptians first. Violence only makes everything worse.

The U.S., which has stumbled from one failed policy to another since the Mubarak government began to fail, doesn’t have a lot of options at this point. The new government has its flaws, but it is hard to see how any other force in the country could hold things together at an extremely difficult time.

Egypt remains the center of the Arab world, and a stable Egypt that has a solid and pragmatic working relationship with the U.S. is something we could not well do without. Repairing our strained relationship with Egypt’s military and refocusing our civilian aid program (away from “democracy promotion” and toward education and economic and social development) can lay the foundation for better relations going forward.

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