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What Does the New U.S Congress Mean for Egypt?

February 8, 2019
Source: Mandel Ngan / AFP – Getty Images
Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

In the seventh part in an Egyptian Streets article series under the name of East-West Chitchat that aims to spark increased dialogue between Americans and Egyptians, Abdelrahman Amr and Michael Matthiesen explore how the 116th Congress may or may not affect political relations with Egypt.

January 3rd, 2019 was a historic day for the United States as the new U.S Congress became the most diverse in history. Most of the media attention has been focused on the over 110 new women members that have been elected, but that’s not the only thing that’s historic.

Egyptian readers would be interested to learn that there are eight Arab-Americans, two Muslim women, the first Palestinian woman, and the first Somali woman ever elected to this new U.S Congress. As the cherry-on-top, Nancy Pelosi returned as the first and only woman Speaker of the House.

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib got elected into the 116th congress.
Photo source: risingbd.com

However, despite all the historical significance, the 116th Congress also ushered in a Democratic House of Representatives and a Republican Senate, the first divided government of the Trump Administration. Divided governments are known for being dramatic and not very productive.

Usually, a divided government means that the focus of the Congress, President, and American people will be on domestic policy as this will be where a majority of the division exists.

Take the government shutdown as Exhibit A: no one can agree on how to open the government, even though all sides want to open the government. Now the thing that’s going to scare every American is how Congress will agree on raising the debt ceiling.

What does this historic 116th Congress mean for Egypt? In short, not much, but don’t breathe easy just yet.

Most likely the Congress will be taking so much of President Trump’s attention that he will not be focusing on foreign policy. Speaker Pelosi will have to try to pass bills that will get through a Republican Senate, and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell won’t do anything controversial because he doesn’t want to sacrifice his Republican majority.

So it’s likely that Congress will pass budgets similar to last year, including foreign aid to Egypt. However, there are still two things that the Egyptians should pay attention to: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo running for the U.S Senate, and possible presidential impeachment.

As the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is more likely to have an influence on U.S-Egyptian relations than President Trump. As domestic issues like the Democratic House, Mueller Investigation, and the 2020 Presidential campaign begin to occupy more and more of Donald Trump’s time, the buck will stop with the Secretary of State in regards to foreign relations.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to students at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

However, if Pompeo is more interested in running for the U.S Senate than running the U.S State Department, he will have to resign within the next year. With a distracted President, and America’s top diplomat resigning to run for office, this will leave a huge vacuum in American diplomacy.

As for impeachment, how will removing the U.S President impact Egypt? Well, one reason that U.S-Egyptian relations have improved in recent years is that of the chemistry between President Sisi and President Trump.

During my visit to Cairo in 2017, I was told by pretty much every Egyptian I met that they had hoped for better relations between the U.S and Egypt because of this presidential ‘bromance’. If President Trump is impeached, how will a President Mike Pence resonate with President Sisi? And if President Pence loses the 2020 election, what will the next U.S President change between the U.S and Egypt?

President Sisi and President Trump

A worst-case scenario would pretty much halt U.S-Egyptian relations until after 2020, caused mostly by instability in leadership. If Secretary Pompeo resigns, the State Department continues to be vastly understaffed, Donald Trump gets impeached and removed, and if President Pence loses the 2020 election then there will really be no stable leader for President Sisi and Minister Shoukry to speak to, until after the January 20th, 2021 inauguration. Just a bunch of seat warmers until the next administration is ready to rule the United States.

In short, what should Egypt expect in the next two years? Not much. Foreign aid should remain at current levels and at this rate, and Trump will likely not appoint a new U.S Ambassador to Egypt by 2020. But, that doesn’t mean Egyptians shouldn’t pay attention.

The possible impeachment of President Trump will not only have ramifications throughout the U.S but throughout the world. The 2020 Presidential election is set-up to be one of the most consequential presidential elections, even rivaling the 2016 election.

The next two years will be an exciting time for the U.S. How it will impact U.S-Egyptian relations is yet to be seen, but a lot is at stake.