It is true, Egypt presents a particular difficult challenge. One the one hand, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, was hardly a dedicated democrat. On the other hand, his ouster through a military coup d'etat does not bode well for the chances of this crucial Middle Eastern country to become a fully democratic state any time soon. And I fully admit that I have trouble in picking sides in this particular situation – and picking sides, after all, is what a pundit is usually being paid for.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the Obama-administration and its European allies find it equally difficult to square this particular circle. I've been to Egypt recently, to Cairo, to be more precise, and it is gut-wrenching to watch the reports of Egyptians killing and torturing each other.
The way in which the Obama-administration is handling the situation in Egypt, however, is bizarre, to say the least. Following the coup on July 3rd the administration was quick to urge Egyptians to unite and form a government of national unity, yet it could not bring itself to condemn the coup. In fact, it could not even bring itself to call it a coup. Anyone who has been reading the State Department press briefings over the past couple of weeks could feel the frustration journalists had when trying to understand the administration's position, if it actually had a position. Since the administration is not calling a coup and insisting its not not calling it a coup either, one wonders how the administration is referring to the events of July 3rd.
The administration, of course, does not want to call the coup a coup because it would than be legally bound to cease granting assistance to Egypt, which after all is its major leverage on the government. The administration, however, is rapidly reaching a point where it has to ask itself what it wants to preserve: the tenuous progress toward democracy or its leverage. It seems to me that at this point in time, it is largely trying to preserve its leverage as an end in itself. Obama and his State Department seem to believe that its influence over the military is the best guarantee that the military is living up to its promise to quickly realise democratic elections. But Robert Springbord is quite right to caution against any expectation that the military, of all actors, will be the watchdog for the country's transition to democracy.