Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Egypt Crisis

     Egypt is the largest Arab state in the world which makes their unsettling situation worthy of scrutiny.  It has been nearly seven weeks since the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi and the nation is still grappling with the state of unrest thus produced.  Last week, there were reports of hundreds killed during a pro-Morsi, pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration by rebels.  The rest of the world has been watching with great dread in the hopes that the country can get itself back on the path to democracy.
     Many in the American punditry have been accusing the Obama Administration of a lackluster effort to help mitigate the problems facing Egypt.  Given the fact that Egypt is the largest Arab nation, and an American ally, it is important for us to maintain familiar diplomatic relations with them.  This is also beneficial to the region given our firm commitment to and relations with Israel, a non-Arab country in an increasingly hostile Arab world.  The Obama Administration has been careful not to call the July 3 ouster a "coup" because legally, they would have had to discontinue their $1.23 billion in military aid.  However, as recent as this week, an Obama Administration spokesman stated that the United States may be withholding some aid.  CNN reports the an official stated Monday, "the move is being described as a 'reprogramming' of some funds to Egypt, but in effect, Washington is temporarily holding up some military aid to that country as it prepares for the possibility that future aid could be cut."  The article goes on to state that "the U.S. official emphasized no decision has been made to permanently halt the aid.  These steps ultimately allow the administration to move forward on either scenario: pressing ahead with the aid or cutting it off."
     While vacationing in Martha's Vineyard last week, President Obama issued a symbolic decree of sorts canceling the U.S.-Egypt joint military exercises next month in lieu of the current conflict.  Some in the beltway media were questioning the real impact of this statement given the fact that the Egyptian military is already frustrated with us and would have most likely cancelled the operations anyway.  Does this denouncement of the President's foreign policy sound familiar?  It should because he has been receiving criticism on nearly every foreign policy decision he has made.  Many believe that he leads from behind and waits too long for situations to play out.  So far, to the contrary, this strategy has worked quite well.  Time will tell with the situation in Syria and I think it is safe to say that President Obama will not be remembered for his foreign policy triumphs.  His main foreign policy stances have been to end the wars started over ten years ago.  With the current quagmire developing in Egypt, he must affirm that we stand by a united, democratic Egypt in order to keep strong ties to an Arab power.  It is important to avoid the notion that we support Egypt at any cost and this is difficult now because they are currently being governed by their military and Minister of Defense General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
     Politico reports that the United States may have committed to the Egyptian military for a long time behind closed doors.  They state, "the U.S. Air Force awarded a contract to General Electric to upgrade the Egyptian air forces' fighter jets.  The deal, worth nearly $14 million, is to extend the lives of 18 engines used on F-16's and other fighters.  It's also a tacit acknowledgement by the Pentagon that, despite the violence in Egypt and tough talk from Washington, for now it plans to maintain a relationship with the country that for three decades has been a source of stability in the Middle East.  For the most part, Egypt has stood by its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and has allowed the U.S. Navy access to the Suez Canal."  Politico quotes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as stating, "The Department of Defense will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt."  This is contrary to what many lawmakers in Washington are saying, particularly Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who have publicly stated that the U.S. should cut its aid to Egypt.
     On the other side of things, Forbes begs the question, is the U.S. sponsoring murder?  They state "dead protestors litter the streets of Cairo.  So much for Secretary of State John Kerry's theory that Egypt's military rulers 'were restoring democracy.'  Unfortunately, the dead will have trouble voting in the new and improved Egypt.  Instead of acting as the regime's enabler, the Obama Administration should 'reset' relations with Cairo.  The U.S. should cut off all aid and withdraw America's ambassador.  If Washington has any influence to exercise, it should do so quietly and informally."  There's no doubt that it is a tough call for the administration and now more than ever the U.S. needs a strong Arab partner.  However it is difficult to argue that the rebels and the military who were acting out of "oppression" are going about this the democratic way.
     General Sisi has stated that he "will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching the nation and terrorizing the citizens."  General Sisi orchestrated the "coup" in the name of democracy to ouster the "oppressive" Morsi yet in the last few weeks, the unrest in Egypt seems anything but democratic.  Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are being arrested and jailed.  The interim Vice President resigned and they are not closer to an election.  Military rule is not democracy and whether the people like it or not, they democratically elected Morsi.  In the past two years the military has ousted two leaders.  The ouster of Hosni Mubarak was a justifiable cause but they are on a very unstable and destructive path.  News broke this week that Mubarak will be released from jail which is almost counter intuitive to the current cause.      
     Either way, the United States must tread very carefully not to upset the powers that be in Egypt for our allies need them as much as we do.  It is also gravely important not to sponsor the work of demonstrator suppression and mass murder.  I have always been a fan of President Obama's consequentialist "baby step" approach to foreign policy and I think he has handled the situation reasonably thus far.  The real test will be when he is forced to decide if the United States will recognize the July 3 ouster as a coup and have to officially cut off aid or be looked upon by the world as cowardly.   

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