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Sending a Message
Egypt Bars US Academic from Entry

Egypt has turned away an American scholar at the border for the first time ever, sending a strong message from the military government to the U.S. and American human rights groups. The New York Times reports:

The scholar, Michele Dunne, is a senior associate in the Middle East program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who spent 17 years as a specialist in the region for the State Department, with postings that included Cairo and Jerusalem as well as the National Security Council. She was traveling to Cairo for a conference organized by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, a generally pro-government organization composed mainly of former Egyptian diplomats.

In a telephone interview on Saturday from the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Ms. Dunne said that security officials at the Cairo airport had stopped her upon arrival late Friday night and held her for about six hours before putting her on a flight out of the country.

When she asked why she had been detained, she said, a security official at the airport told her, “No reason, but, Madame, you cannot access Egypt any more.”

We sympathize with Dunne, who has obviously been caught up in something much larger than her or her work. Her case is a specific instance of a general tension that exists whenever American scholars travel abroad (as indeed many of us at TAI have). Many American academics normally enjoy a kind of imperial privilege in writing about countries that value their relations with the U.S. These countries often give American scholars more room to write about sensitive topics than local scholars have. This is partly because American universities and scholars enjoy prestige around the world; professors in the U.S. have much more time to research and publish than their colleagues in most other countries and have much greater access to grants and foundations. At the same time, it is easier for them to get their work published in journals that are widely read outside academia. Foreign governments don’t want trouble, and so they often give Americans (and, to a lesser extent, other Westerners and scholars from rich countries) running room that locals don’t enjoy.

To complicate things, U.S. academics can much more easily make their problems known to human rights groups, professional associations, and, above all, Congress and sympathetic colleagues in the State Department and Executive Branch. This can be a real factor when it comes to decisions about foreign aid, and so forth. In other words, American scholars are some of the most privileged people on earth compared to most of their foreign colleagues, especially those from the developing world.

Though many U.S. academics don’t see this, to many government officials and nationalists in developing countries, this feels like a humiliating 21st-century version of the old system of “extraterritoriality.” In the 19th century, Western visitors—missionaries, scholars, businesspeople—were often protected from local laws by treaty. Blocking American scholars from Egypt will appall most Egyptian academics and civil liberty activists because it sends such a tough signal about what the government plans to do to its homegrown critics. But to many nationalists, the message will be somewhat different: Egypt’s government is no longer willing to let the U.S. humiliate it. U.S. citizens can’t come to Egypt and expect to be treated differently than the locals.

For Egypt’s government, horrified by the specter of radical Islamism in Sinai, Libya, and Syria, invoking nationalism is part of what it needs to do to rally public opinion to its side. Cracking down on American scholars is one way to do that: it helps portray the Egyptian government as independent and strong—a message that resonates in the Arab world’s most nationalistic country.

Furthermore, the Egyptian military is sending clear signals to two other interested parties here. Firstly, to the U.S.: don’t expect Egypt to grovel for the aid we feel we deserve. And secondly, to even well connected, elite audiences within Egypt: don’t play games. The military wants them to know that it is in charge and it means what it says. This was a strong move, and it reflects the government’s confidence that Egypt’s Saudi and Emirati backers don’t care what the U.S. Congress or academics think.
Overall, this is one more piece of evidence, if more were needed, that the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy has reduced U.S. influence in the region without bringing any solid gains. The region is now less stable, less democratic, and more anti-American than when Obama took office, and we have trashed our old relationships without making new friends or crossing items off our agenda.
In case anybody is wondering, this is what foreign policy failure looks like.
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  • Progressive_civil_war


    The author isn’t understanding the big picture.

    Carnegie-Mellon is one of the U.S. universities with a satellite campus in Doha.

    The Egyptians understand de facto state capture of Washington by Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Why doesn’t the author?

    For some enlightenment, Google:

    Georgetown Unapologetic


    constitutionalright jihadi report



    • Corlyss

      Thanks for the insight. It kinda underscores my reservations about the chops of the people VM hires for interns. Sometimes they exhibit an understanding of America, American policy, American history, and the entire field of what they write about that Keith Olbermann exhibits of same. I used to come here for the insights of Mead et al. Now I come here for the insights of the posters cuz the staff writings often consists of drivel.

      “This is partly because American universities and scholars enjoy prestige around the world; professors in the U.S.”
      Really?! And here I thought it was because most of the profs come from a milieu in which anti-Americanism is at an all time high because that doctrinal stance guarantees tenure. Regardless of country, the foreign universities are guaranteed to get an anti-American teaching foreigners to hate America. That’s been our public diplomacy for the last 25 years, ever since the end of the Soviet Union.

      • Progressive_civil_war

        Excellent points!

        And, I would further add, having some familiarity with intel/counterintel, that the doctrine embraced by many these days is generally the product of Soviet-era disinformation.

        Having said that, I think a lot of people were surprised by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

        The assumption is…

        When the Soviet Union and the KGB collapsed, and the GRU and the FSB took over, the Russians abandoned their intelligence assets abroad.

        If that were true, why is nearly every group involved in the Ferguson riots verifiably tied to the FSB, minus the jihadist groups that were involved?

        : )

        • Tom

          Ummm, is there some evidence for this, and if so, where is it?

          • Progressive_civil_war

            Some of it is public knowledge, some not.


            The Menace of Unreality

            As for the rest, I’m reluctant to get into it, because it might be perceived as an attack against ideology, although I promise you it is NOT…they play BOTH sides.

            But understanding the scale of Russian disinformation is like swallowing the ‘red’ pill.

            Open mind?

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