Just as I predicted at the end of last year, Egypt continues to be a mess. (See #12.) The latest news is that the military leadership that stepped in last year “temporarily” in order to stabilize the country in the wake of the violent ”Arab Spring” ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, has now effectively voided this weekend’s democratic election of an islamist president, and seized supreme legislative power and veto authority over the new constitution. At this point there are no good outcomes possible in Egypt; only bad ones and worse ones.
A relatively smooth transition of presidential power to Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate who apparently secured the majority vote on Sunday, would give control of the largest country in the Arab World to an Islamist and anti-Western government that is sympathetic to al-Qaeda and highly belligerent toward Israel. Considering that Egypt and Israel fought four wars in the 25 years between 1948 and 1973, and that the now-reviled Hosni Mubarak led Egypt for the vast majority of the last 40 years of peace, and all signs coming out of Cairo point to a deteriorating situation with Israel. Given the already uncomfortable relationship between a nuclear Israel and a nearly nuclear Iran, it is easy to imagine a newly militant Egyptian government being just a hair trigger away from initiating a much wider conflagration. It is also easy to imagine that an al-Qaeda-sympathetic government with access to Egypt’s wealth and military, not to mention control of the Suez Canal, could provide a platform for a renewed worldwide projection of terrorism and terrorist weapons.
And what I just described is probably the best that we can hope for.
Egypt is America’s second largest beneficiary of foreign aid and one of the largest recipients of foreign military sales. Its military trains at all levels with the US military and it possesses some of our best equipment. It would be preposterous if America were even to consider to provide that level of support and assistance to a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government. On the other hand, continuing that level of American support to the military junta that has taken over the country risks an even worse outcome, as a circa-1979 Iranian Shah style backlash becomes increasingly likely. America is already culpable in the eyes of the Egyptian majority. Every passing day that we arm Egypt’s oppressors, we increase the inevitability that an anti-government revolution grows even more anti-Western. When the rebels take over the country (and they will) the US will get all of the bad outcomes listed above, and on top of that, even more of the blame. Furthermore, our support for an anti-popular regime complicates US efforts to resolve peacefully an analogous situation in nearby Syria, where Russia, Iran, and perhaps even China support a military dictatorship against a popular uprising. Hypocrisy will be the charge, and it will have merit.
My prescription will be anathema to career diplomats and also to military leaders who have bought into the idea that engagement and dialogue equate to success. It is to publicly tell Egypt’s military government that all foreign aid, military assistance, and military training will completely halt effective the end of this month. And that if after that date, Egypt wishes the resumption of any portion of American assistance, it will be contingent upon being able to demonstrate measurable results in achieving democratic rule, protection of human rights, cooperation with Israel, support of the free flow of trade through the Canal, and the suppression of terrorist activities. Failure to achieve any one of those objectives will result in no American assistance.
My recommendation is no less than to break a significant portion of the Camp David Accords, so it is not made lightly. However, the status quo is untenable and increasingly likely to blow up (hopefully only figuratively) in the face of Americans. When confronted with the choice of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” the best outcome is the one with the least damnation. And the only thing we have to look forward to as a result of continued engagement with Egypt, is even more damnation.
*These opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense.