False choices in Egypt
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
A surprising number of world leaders and foreign policy experts have effectively acquiesced in the continued brutality of Egypt’s generals, arguing that support for the military is the only way to restore stability in the Arab world’s most populous state and limit wider regional turmoil. But this is just one of several false choices misinforming the debate and one that is certain to ensure more unrest, not less.
After overthrowing Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the military could have been a positive force if it had put in place a transition plan that included all groups, including Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. But instead of encouraging Egyptians to settle differences through democratic means — elections, for instance — the generals and their anti-Morsi allies, invoking the threat of “terrorism,” took the ruthless, likely fateful, decision to crack down on peaceful demonstrators. The death toll of more than 1,000 now includes 36 Morsi supporters who died on Sunday under suspicious circumstances in police custody.
The choice the generals are promoting is that the world must decide between them or instability. “At this point, it’s army or anarchy,” one Israeli official told The Times. Israel has been vigorously lobbying the United States and Europe to back the generals. Over the weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia strongly endorsed the crackdown; he and other gulf monarchs, who hate the Brotherhood, have pumped billions into Egypt’s treasury.
There is a better path, and that is to choose not to help the military, which is making things worse, and could fuel a generation of Islamists to choose militancy over the ballot box. (The possible release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak from prison would be the ultimate repudiation of the 2011 revolution.) Is that really in the best long-term interests of the United States? Obviously not.
There is much at stake in the U.S. relationship with Egypt, including the Israel-Egypt peace treaty (Israel’s priority), counterterrorism cooperation, priority treatment for ships transiting the Suez Canal, overflight rights for planes to and from Afghanistan. But the point to remember is that Egypt benefits from this relationship, too, as do the generals.
President Barack Obama’s muted chastising of the generals and his indecisive reaction to the slaughter does not inspire confidence. Instead of wringing their hands, administration officials should suspend the $1.3 billion in annual American military aid to Egypt — including the delivery of Apache helicopters — until the military puts the country on a peaceful path.
Some say the aid can easily be replaced by the gulf states, but they have often promised aid — for the Palestinians, for instance — and failed to deliver, whereas the United States has reliably provided Egypt with an estimated $60 billion over three decades.
Long term, Egypt cannot subsist on handouts and needs to develop a real economy to provide jobs, education and other opportunities to its people. That is the road to true stability and will require tourism and foreign investment. But that cannot happen in a country in perpetual turmoil with a repressive military intent on obliterating its adversaries. The United States should not be complicitous in this unfolding disaster.