Can this relationship be saved?

Egyptian military head General  Abdel Fatah al-Sissi

Egyptian military head General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi

News item:

The U.S. is leaning toward withholding most military aid to Egypt except to promote counterterrorism, security in the Sinai Peninsula that borders Israel, and other priorities, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The official said U.S. President Barack Obama had not made a final decision on the issue, which has vexed U.S. officials as they balance a desire to be seen promoting democracy and rights with a desire to keep up some cooperation with Egypt’s military. …

The removal of Morsi has left Obama with an acute dilemma: whether to get tough with the army for toppling a democratically elected president, albeit an Islamist who had few friends in Washington, or whether to acquiesce in his overthrow.

Just once, I would like US officials to make a statement that doesn’t leave me thinking “are they really this ignorant, or are they lying?”

‘Democracy’ and ‘Egypt’ do not belong in the same sentence. Whether or not there are elections, the concept of a government whose actions reflect the popular will and where the citizens exercise the kind of freedom and civil rights that we think of as being associated with living in a ‘democratic’ country, does not and never has fit Egypt.

It is also important to understand that, to put it politely, a tradition of peaceful political opposition does not exist. Either the military will suppress the Brotherhood, killing and imprisoning its members, or the Brotherhood will overthrow the military and kill and imprison them.

Over one-fourth of Egyptians and one-third of Egyptian women are illiterate. The highly educated young people that represented the face of the Arab Spring back in 2011 were a tiny minority, and one with no political power. The Egyptian economy, weak at best, was devastated by the uprising and the continued strife.

Egypt will need massive aid to get through the winter without starvation. If it is to get back on its feet, it will need security to develop its shattered tourism industry. Its short experiment with Islamist rule led to pogroms against Christians which haven’t abated (and which won’t stop until the military government finally crushes the Muslim Brotherhood). And the chaos has provided an opportunity for al Qaeda-linked terrorists to establish themselves in the Sinai.

The best thing that the US can do for the Egyptian people today is to support the military in its struggle with the Brotherhood and with the extremists in the Sinai. If the Obama Administration wants to cut military aid, it would make sense to eliminate the F16’s and Abrams tanks that are on the way — these have no constructive role (except as a subsidy to US defense contractors). But other military and economic assistance should not be terminated.

Egypt is the largest and (still) the most powerful Arab nation. The policy of the present administration has alienated Egyptians at all levels, from the leadership to the educated elite, to the person on the street. But unlike the Iranian regime, the present Egyptian leadership does not see its interests as diametrically opposed to those of the US.

It is still possible to save the relationship, and the US should do everything in its power to do so.

Update [1948 PDT]: The administration announced that it will cut some aid:

The U.S . is suspending the delivery of additional military aid to Egypt that includes big weapons systems like F-16′s, Apache helicopters, kits for M1-A1 Abrams tanks and the Harpoon missile system.   It is also withholding $260 million in cash payouts to Egypt, which receives $1.5 billion in total U.S. aid annually.

The administration’s goal is to convince Egypt’s leaders that progress is necessary on restoring an inclusive, nonviolent democracy there while preserving American national security interests in the region. …

One official said the aid “will not be delivered until there’s progress towards the inclusive democracy that we want to see. So I think that’s a pretty clear signal of the U.S. approach and the importance that we place on the issues that we’re talking about.”

I am pleased that “big” weapons systems will be cut. But cutting cash aid while lecturing the Egyptians about “inclusive democracy” is insulting — this counts a great deal in the Middle East — and stupid.

Technorati Tags: ,

3 Responses to “Can this relationship be saved?”

  1. Robman says:

    You are right, Vic, about what the U.S. ought to do.

    But, fat chance under this president…who we’re stuck with more another three+ years.

    Also, I’m not sure that I agree that Egypt is the ‘most powerful’ Arab country. They are the most populous, but wouldn’t Saudi Arabia really be the most powerful? They’re the ones with all the money.

    Just sayin’…

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    The Saudis have money, and lots of very expensive arms that they have never been able to use.

    Egypt has no money and little food, but they have a large army which has proven to be willing to fight, although its leadership is not especially competent.

  3. Shalom Freedman says:

    What are the Americans thinking? Are they trying to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back into power?
    I am amazed at the stupidity of the Obama regime in dealing with Middle Eastern affairs. They are without morality and without realpolitik either. They just do one foolish thing after another.