Democracy advocate Hisham Kassem
The United States said on Wednesday it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles as well as $260 million in cash aid from Egypt’s military-backed government pending progress on democracy and human rights, Reuters reports:
But the State Department said it would not cut off all aid and would continue military support for counterterrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders U.S. ally Israel.It also said it would continue to provide funding that benefits the Egyptian people in such areas as education, health and the development of the private sector.
The split decision illustrates the U.S. dilemma in Egypt: a desire to promote democracy and human rights along with a need to cooperate with a nation of strategic importance because of its control of the Suez Canal, its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and its status as the most populous nation in the Arab world.
“We will … continue to hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The White House had played down reports that it planned to cut all military aid to Egypt over its crackdown on its critics.
Critics on Capitol Hill said the administration was failing to send a signal to leaders who seized power in a coup, imposed martial law and carried out a systematic repression of the Islamist opposition, The New York Times reports:
“The administration is trying to have it both ways, by suspending some aid but continuing other aid,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who is chairman of the subcommittee that appropriates aid to Egypt. “By doing that, the message is muddled.”
Some experts said the moves were meant to be more symbolic than substantive.
“This is not a signal to the generals to get their act together,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It is an effort by the administration to say, ‘You did what you did, and we want to keep working with you, but there is some price to be paid for not listening to us.’ ”
“At the end of day,” she added, “it is a pretty symbolic price.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the administration of jeopardizing the U.S.-Egypt relationship and imperiling U.S. interests in the region, Foreign Policy reports.
“I am disappointed that the Administration is planning to partially suspend military aid to Egypt,” Engel said in statement. “During this fragile period we should be rebuilding partnerships in Egypt that enhance our bilateral relationship, not undermining them.”
Some people reacted with anger on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reports, saying that Egypt was better off without the aid and could seek out other sources of military financing in China, Russia or the Persian Gulf. “This is actually a chance for Egypt to be free of this burden,” said Tahani Al Gabali, a former constitutional court justice and a vocal opponent of the Brotherhood and U.S. influence in Egypt. “The U.S. is pressuring Egypt to allow the Brotherhood back into politics and it won’t work. Unfortunately, the current American administration has a failed foreign policy.”
The calls to cut off military aid in the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what transpired in Egypt this past summer, says Eric Trager, an Egypt analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“To say, as is frequently said, that the military removed a democratically elected president from office is to overlook a very basic reality,” he writes for The New Republic:
Morsi’s November 2012 constitutional declaration, which put his own edicts above judicial scrutiny, and his subsequent ramming of an Islamist constitution through to ratification, severely undercut his popular legitimacy, and shrunk his support in a country of 85 million people down to the Brotherhood’s base of approximately 500,000 members…..Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to dispatch its cadres to brutally attack and torture protesters outside the presidential palace on December 5 led many Egyptians to view the Brotherhood—an organization that they had elected only months earlier—as an emerging fascist regime.
Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity yesterday officially revoked the Muslim Brotherhood’s NGO status in accordance with the legal procedures stipulated in Article 42 of the NGO Law, Al-Ahram reports.
The administration recognizes it has serious national interests in Egypt and won’t jeopardize them, said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military and professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
“The day-to-day interactions between the two sides, it seems to me, will continue, and they might actually increase, so I don’t see this as much more than a symbolic act,” he said. “I think this is about as light a reaction as you could anticipate.”
Even so, Springborg said Egypt’s military will react negatively in public to any assistance cuts as people don’t like to be seen as penalized for behavior they deem to be appropriate, he said.
“Forget the actual impact of military assistance,” he said. “It’s a political statement, so it’s a mild form of political censure by the Obama administration of the Egyptian military.”
‘Worst of both worlds’?
“What the U.S. is doing is the worst of both worlds right now,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert and head of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. “They’re not putting pressure on the military but they’re still going to anger the Egyptian population and make it seem like they’re punishing the military and suspending aid.”
The cutting of aid “doesn’t look like a serious thing,” according to Said Sadek, a political sociologist at the American University in Cairo.
US CUTS AID: State Dept. says aid will be cut
Any halting of aid could benefit – rather than negatively effect – Egypt’s most powerful institution, Sadek told USA Today.
“It will be used domestically to mobilize public opinion to support the army,” Sadek said, as well as to support Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who overthrew Morsi in July and is being pushed by some supporters to run in the country’s next presidential election.
“It will look like Obama is pressuring the independent, patriotic Al-Sisi,” Sadek said, “so if Al-Sisi is going to use that to look like a national hero … it will help his media campaign if he wants to be elected as a president. It will boost him.”
“Egyptians … are emotional and will say they don’t want aid from the U.S. ‘We don’t need it; we want to be more independent in our decisions, and we don’t want interference,’” said Mohamed Soliman, student leader for the Constitution Party. “But from a pragmatic perspective, this decision is disastrous.”
The strategy runs of the risk of sending mixed messages to Egypt’s military, says the Brookings Institution’s Hamid.
“The key question is whether the consequences for the Egyptian military are significant or meaningful,” he told The Cable. “If they aren’t, then there’s little reason to think the move will change their calculus, which, I would argue, is the point of any aid suspension.”
The Obama administration risks alienating all sides in the conflict and feeding conspiracy theories, says the Washington Institute’s Trager.
“Cutting off military aid now—only two days after Egypt was hit with three terrorist attacks—will only reinforce these anxieties, and will mean losing a point of leverage that the U.S. might be able to use in the future, when the political environment in Egypt might be more hospitable for pushing the country in a more progressive direction,” he contends:
And rest assured: That moment will surely come. If the past two-plus years have taught us anything about Egypt, it’s that newly emerging regimes quickly fall out of public favor as they become more autocratic. Much as Egyptians turned on the military leaders who assumed control of the country in February 2011, and much as they rebelled against the Muslim Brotherhood leader who won the presidential election in June 2012, they will likely bristle before long under the current regime, particularly as Egypt’s economy continues to tumble.
“If the U.S. desires a stable Egypt, it is at that moment that the U.S. will want to use its leverage to encourage the generals to lower their political sights, and permit a more inclusive and democratic politics,” Trager concludes.
But some Egyptian activists suggest that the U.S. aid cuts will be counterproductive and help bolster the military at the expense of democratic forces.
“Well done, now Egyptians will feel that their army, the only entity they trust at present, is being penalized for siding with them against the failed incompetent Brotherhood regime they revolted against. The likely result is that they will drift closer round it, increasing the influence of the military in political life,” said publisher and analyst Hisham Kassem (above), referring to earlier sanctions against the Egyptian military.