Cutting Egypt’s Allowance

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST-CLASHES

The US is finally trimming its aid to Egypt (NYT). Goldberg thinks it’s a bad idea, affecting regional stability, empowering Russia, and possibly making the peace process more difficult in Israel – also:

[T]he danger in suspending aid to Egypt, above all other dangers, is that Obama, by signaling that he will act aggressively against Arab autocrats, might provide Islamists with a glimmer of hope at a time when they’re generally back on their heels. Certainly, the opponents of such American friends as the king of Jordan would be pleased by this latest act of an administration that many already believe is naive about the nature of Islamic terrorism.

I think that the US, morally, has little choice. And I like the precedent. It means, for example, that if Israel continues to expand settlements on the West Bank, we have a precedent of cutting aid to one of the two biggest recipients of it, Egypt, and could possibly use that as leverage. But Eric Trager shares Goldberg’s worries:

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.

But if the U.S. cuts aid now, it won’t be able to have that conversation then.

Yeah, yeah. And yet, as Michael Crowley notes, we never seem to get anything in return for the aid anyway:

Obama’s move is a clear punishment for Egypt’s military. It will be instructive now to see whether Sisi and company ease their crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood—or whether they act as though they didn’t need us anyway. That will clarify the debate about whether military aid, with the right strings attached, can buy America real leverage—or whether we’re just being taken advantage of.

News flash: we’re being taken advantage of, and have been for decades. Keating expects the Saudis to be unhappy with us:

[W]hile this isn’t the full aid cut-off that some were hoping for, and it monetary terms it’s not going to make a huge impact, the White House does have the ability to inflict some discomfort on Egypt’s generals if it wants to. With the Saudi government already irked by the U.S. government’s reluctance to fund rebels in Syria, tentative steps toward rapprochement with Iran, and lack of support for the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, it should also be interesting to watch the reaction to this latest development from Riyadh.

Fisher considers the possibility that cutting aid to Egypt might actually be effective:

Maybe, just maybe, it will work. The United States plans on restoring aid to Mali, which it cut after a coup in 2012. The troubled West African country has since taken some solid steps back to democracy. Maybe that would have happened without the United States holding out aid as an incentive, but it’s possible that the aid helped to encourage Malian leaders in the right direction. This seems a lot less likely in Egypt, which just does not need U.S. money in the same way that Mali does and where the military sees retaining power as much more important. But stranger things have happened.

Not a high bar, I’d say. My view is that we should slowly disengage from the region as best we can. It’s place where we cannot win, and that, with much higher imports of non-Middle East oil, we can begin to do without. Yes, we should retain a serious naval presence. But this maneuvering between Shia and Sunni is not something the government of the United States should be involved with. To the extent that we already have, it’s been a rolling disaster.

(Photo: Bloodstains are seen on the ground in Ramsis street, in downtown Cairo following clashes between Egyptian riot police and Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on October 6, 2013. By Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)