The US and Europe are aligned on Egypt but the prospect of a US retrenchment from the region is causing concern in some European states.
US and European views on Egypt have been closely aligned in the aftermath of the turmoil that affected the Morsi government, the coup that deposed it, and the military regime that followed it. Both the US and the EU were concerned with the coup but were unwilling to go so far as to completely cut off aid and dramatically increase the pressure on the military. The EU took a slightly more forward-leaning stance in expressing concern – EU High Representative Catherine Ashton was the first Western official to visit Morsi since his ouster and imprisonment after she made it a condition of her trip to Egypt in late July. Both the EU and the US want Egypt to do more to restore democracy but they are unwilling and/or unable to do anything significant to pressure Cairo in this regard and both have concerns about what would happen if democracy were immediately and fully restored.
Although the differences on Egypt may be small, there is a larger issue at stake. In parts of Europe, particularly France, it is believed that the US is engaged in a strategic retrenchment from the Middle East. According to this perspective, the US will continue to have vital interests in the region but it will no longer seek to shape the future of the region as a whole. Paradoxically, the flurry of US diplomacy in the Middle East is perceived by many in the region – especially the Gulf Arabs and Israel – as having the purpose of reducing America’s role there over the long term. Washington continues to strongly contest the “strategic withdrawal” narrative. This assessment is giving rise to some anxiety in Europe. If the US plays less of a role in the region, will Europe have to pick up the slack? Will the new strategic environment change how Europe pursues its own interests? This will continue to unfold in 2014.