The Real Reason the U.S. Should Consider Cutting Military Aid to Egypt
On June 30, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi took his oath of office, becoming Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president. There seems to be, finally, a sense of forward momentum. On Friday, Morsi gave a rousing address in Tahrir square, where he repeatedly shouted, in somewhat dramatic fashion, that the people were the source of power. But, for now at least, the people aren’t. The military holds the power. And, as long as it does, what’s left of Egypt’s faltering transition remains under threat.
All in the span of one very bad week this June, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its allies dissolved parliament, reinstated martial law, and decreed a constitutional addendum stripping the presidency of many of its powers. The military, more than a year after helping nudge out President Hosni Mubarak, had staged a confusing but seemingly masterful coup within a coup. All of this raises a difficult question: what can, or should, the United States do in response?
The United States, after all, spends over $1 billion annually in military aid to Egypt. This could give the Obama administration a degree of leverage over the military and, whether fairly or unfairly, leads many Egyptians to see the U.S. as backing the ruling generals.
The Obama administration’s problems in Egypt — a vital ally and the Arab world’s most populous nation — did not start last month. U.S. policymakers made a fateful mistake in the early days of Egypt’s transition, shortly after millions of protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak. The U.S. wagered that a military-led transition would facilitate (and manage) the democratization process while safeguarding U.S. interests. In essence, it was the same Faustian bargain that had defined American policy for decades — for example in Latin America during the Cold War or in Pakistan today — but updated for the Arab Spring. But there was little reason to think that the Egyptian military — itself the backbone of the Mubarak regime for nearly three decades — would suddenly discover it believed in democracy.