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.
U.S. policy toward Egypt has rarely taken the Egyptian people into account. The $75 billion provided in “aid” over the years was mostly a payoff to successive dictators and their military praetorian guards. All that Washington worried about was “stability.”
The armed services became a privileged caste, with sons following fathers into the military. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces controls as much as 40 percent of the economy, causing the generals to worry more about personal privilege than national security. Observed the Economist: “combat is perhaps [the military’s] least‐developed skill.”
However, after the police were unable to quell protests against Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the army abandoned the dictator in an attempt to save the system. SCAF ruled until last year’s presidential election, which came down to a contest between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ancien Regime. Secular liberals demonstrated little support.
The run‐off featured the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik. Many Egyptians viewed Morsi as the lesser of two evils and gave him a narrow victory. Reports circulated — well‐sourced but impossible to verify — that SCAF had intended to proclaim Shafik the victor, but backed down after the Brotherhood threatened to expose the vote fraud.
The Brotherhood is no friend of liberty but its membership broadened after the movement emerged from underground, when it was persecuted by successive dictators. Morsi had an opportunity to establish his organization’s democratic bona fides. Alas, little good came from his brief term in office. He made few economic reforms, expanded his powers through decree, presided over rising persecution of Coptic Christians, and failed to reach out to disaffected Egyptians who only reluctantly voted for him.
Yet Morsi’s opponents were no better. The International Crisis Group criticized them for “Viewing election results as altogether meaningless, demanding oftentimes disproportionate representation in decision‐making bodies; challenging the basic principle of popular will; and yielding to the growing temptation of extra‐institutional means, be it street agitation or calls for judicial or military intervention.”
Moreover, the Mubarak state remained largely intact and obstructed Morsi at every turn. The police disappeared from the streets, allowing crime to surge; they even refused to protect the Brotherhood’s headquarters from mob attack. Mubarak‐appointed judges tossed out the elected, Islamist‐dominated legislature.
Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution noted that “The feloul, the remnants of the old regime, still had the commanding heights of the economy.” Anti‐Morsi businessmen and officials may have helped manufacture debilitating electricity and gasoline shortages. After pledging loyalty to Morsi, Gen. Abdul‐Fattah al‐Sisi worked with the Tamarod movement, which organized the massive demonstrations used to justify military rule.
It would have taken extraordinary skill, forbearance, and luck, none of which President Morsi possessed, to have succeeded. Had the opposition simply waited, Morsi would have discredited political Islam — democratically. In this way, argued Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The Egyptian military may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Instead, Morsi’s disparate opponents backed SCAF in staging the July 3 coup: the president removed, his top aides arrested, his movement’s media shuttered and journalists arrested, the president and others charged with fanciful offenses, and his supporters gunned down in the streets.
Certainly it was an odd way to go about “restoring democracy.” David Kramer, Freedom House’s president, cited a “significant decline in most of the country’s democratic institutions” after Morsi’s ouster.
What the al‐Sisi government actually restored was the old Mubarak structure. The military, “long a cancer on Egyptian society,” in Gerecht’s words, regained its preeminent political role. Gen. al‐Sisi selected a Mubarak jurist as acting president. The regime appointed 25 provincial governors, of whom 17 were military generals, two were police officials, and two were Mubarak judges.
The Interior Ministry reestablished its special departments devoted to monitoring political and religious “extremism.” The discredited police, who fought for Mubarak until the end, returned to their posts. Overall, reported the Washington Post: “Egypt’s new power dynamic, following the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi, is eerily familiar. Gone are the Islamist rulers from the once‐banned Muslim Brotherhood. Back are the faces of the old guard, many closely linked to Mubarak’s reign or to the all‐powerful generals.”
Egypt’s liberals sought to ride to power atop army tanks. The Coptic Christian minority hoped to shelter for protection behind those same tanks. Yet the Mubarak‐era institutions and officials jailed and tortured liberals and persecuted and oppressed Copts. The latter groups are likely to find that they are nothing more than helpless adornments for Western view.
Unsurprisingly, the Brotherhood resisted the military’s demand for abject surrender: stop protests against the coup with no guarantee of meaningful political participation in the future, let alone the prospect that a future election victory would be honored. The movement’s only leverage came from being on the street. In fact, the Brotherhood was in a similar position in 1954 when it backed protesters who demanded that the government, recently taken over by Gamel Abdel Nasser, institute democracy and release political prisoners. Nasser promised elections and the demonstrators went home. Nasser then targeted opposition forces, including six Brotherhood leaders who were executed.
The military regime seemed similarly determined to destroy the Brotherhood. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent to Egypt as an envoy, said: “You could tell people were itching for a fight.”
And Gen. al‐Sisi and his fellow generals chose violence over conciliation. Reported theWashington Post: