How the US can help the Egyptian people

When the chaos leaves the front pages, the next chapter will be anger born of hunger. The US can foresee this and act quickly to provide the needed foodstuffs.

Egypt has been always considered the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Currently the country is in a crisis that threatens to create a vacuum of power, and which may allow Islamic radicals to gain a stronger foothold. Egypt will very soon find itself with food shortages as a result of the ongoing chaos.
This will only aggravate the current situation, making it even more uncontrollable.
The US has been trying for years to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The attempts included President Barack Obama addressing the Muslim world after his election in 2009, the use of US media channels such as Al-Hura Radio and Hi magazine, political statements supporting the building of the Ground Zero mosque and the wearing of the Islamic hijab by Muslim women.
None of these measures were effective in ending the negative image of the US.
On the contrary, after a long period of US hatred during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time, the US won the hearts and minds of the Muslim world during Anwar Sadat’s presidency by using simple yet effective tactics. One of these was helping to solve the shortage of certain food items during the late 1970s. At that time, Egyptians used to stand in very long queues for hours to get one or two chickens for their families. The relations between US and Egypt improved dramatically as the US was seen providing the people with frozen chickens packaged in the colors of the American flag.
This aid successfully contributed to the creation of a very positive image of the US in the minds of many Egyptians, as their brains linked it to an act of kindness. In memory studies, such links are created via a mental process called the spreading activation model. It was a gift given simply because there was a need, and it was received as an act of friendship.
What the US needs to do in the current crisis is to repeat the same mechanism by sending food packages wrapped in the American flag to the Egyptians. When the chaos and fighting leave the front pages, the next chapter will be anger born of hunger. The US can foresee this and act quickly to provide the needed foodstuffs. If this is done during the current crisis, the US can forestall the next food shortage and food riots, be seen as a good friend who cares for Egyptians despite the riots, and significantly improve its image in many other parts of the Muslim world.
EGYPTIANS TYPICALLY get their monthly salaries at the end of the month (many may not be able to this month due to the chaotic situation), and many people barely survive on a daily income. Any disruption of normal business adds to the difficulty. This makes an American gift of ready-to-eatmeals during this disaster an invaluable tool to win the hearts and minds of many people.
Timing is crucial, as Egyptians might be fighting for food just a few days from now. The signs are already here. This precious and needed American aid can also impede the attempts of Islamists, who may otherwise exploit the food shortage for their benefit. A late reaction or no reaction will be perceived by many Muslims as evidence that the US does not care enough and lets people down in crucial times of need. The benefit to be gained by doing the right thing, not for political gain but simply because America sees the need of the Egyptian people, will create the same positive image that prevailed during the Sadat years.
This is a unique opportunity for the US to raise its stock among Muslim nations by doing what it has always done – coming to the aid of those in need. Saving the people of Egypt from deprivation will do more to restore civility between Islam and America than all the political showmanship offered so far.
The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became the second in command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.