The confusing web of alliances in Middle Eastern politics has gotten even more tangled after the forcible deposition of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the attempt by the military to decapitate the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Dividing lines once seen in Washington as unchangeable may now be in flux as a result of the Egyptian turmoil. The implications for Syria, in particular, are most compelling.
Amid concerns that the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad—which contains a number of pro-Muslim Brotherhood factions—might line up with their Egyptian counterparts in opposing the new government, the provisional administration in Cairo has now placed new restrictions on the ability of Syrians to enter Egypt. Egypt's generals have no love for Assad and, as Sunnis themselves, would be happy to see him removed from power—but they are not anxious to see the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Damascus.
This may also put new pressure on the Obama administration to reconsider plans for arming the Syrian opposition. Concerns had already been raised about whether Washington could adequately vet the recipients of any U.S. weapons shipments to ensure that they did not fall into the hands of extremists. If the situation remains unstable in Egypt, however, and if the armed clashes between the army and the Brotherhood intensify into a longer-term conflict, then the U.S. will face a new hurdle: to ensure that any weapons sent are used only for the purposes of fighting the Assad regime and not transferred to those who might want to fight the Egyptian military.