Obama’s lean toward economic connectivity over democracy: a very smart strategy?

Once again I find myself in complete agreement with the Obama administration’s focus on economic connectivity and its prioritization relative to the democracy agenda:

After the imprisonment of Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour in 2005, the Bush administration suspended plans for free-trade agreements with Egypt. The Obama administration has now effectively reversed this policy just ahead of Egypt’s May parliamentary elections.

During a March 21-23 visit to Egypt, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the United States hoped to double trade with Egypt over five years. In a departure not only from President George W. Bush’s approach to the Middle East, but also a break with President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo last year, Kirk omitted any linkage to “freedom” and “human rights.”

Kirk instead said that Washington’s commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights make the US “an even more attractive environment for investment and partnership.” He added that the “partnership between the United States and Egypt in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East is a great foundation on which to build a much stronger economic and commercial relationship.”

The Obama administration also seeks to import more goods from so-called Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs).

These operate under an arrangement according to which goods made in designated industrial areas in Egypt and Jordan, using Israeli inputs, gain duty-free access to the US market.

“We believe [that importing more goods] serves the United States’ interest for the reasons that the QIZs were initially put in place, and that it helps provide stability when people have access to gainful employment,” Kirk explained.

Nothing will make the Egyptian people more willing to ditch Mubarak’s “emergency rule” than rising incomes, a growing economy, and a widespread sense of self-mastery.

Side note: In 2009, exports to Egypt totaled $5.3 billion. The top export categories in 2009 were: machinery, aircraft, cereals (corn and wheat), mineral fuel and oil, and miscellaneous grain, seed and fruit (soybeans). Top U.S. exports of agricultural products in 2008 totaled $2.1 billion, the 8th largest U.S. agriculture export market. Leading categories include: wheat, coarse grains and soybeans.(Office of US Trade Representative)

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