Watching the Egyptian street violence and military crackdown devolve into ever bloodier spectacle and as predictably pundits come forward with simplistic formulations. My radio this morning had an interview with some soft spoken young woman who was telling the American journalist interviewing her that the military actions were a coup plain and simple and could only be understood as a blow against democracy. Anything short of America exerting every possible pressure upon Egypt’s military to reinstall Morsi was this country falling that far short of her democratic ideals. When I heard this exchange something of my skeptical nature came awake. I, too, condemn the violence and believe we should be doing what we can to compel restraint on the part of the Egyptian military, but holding up Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as the paragon of pluralism and democracy is just a little too simple a pill to swallow.
Recall that weeks ago Morsi was the one in political power and confronted with the spectacle of thousands protesting in the streets. Albeit elected, Morsi’s actions were seen by vast numbers of his own people as fundamentally at odds with the spirit of Tahrir square, democracy supposed, co-opting the constitution and dismissing opposition critique. His answer to the thousands seeking his ouster in the streets, without the military to back him, was to call on his own thousands to meet the opposition. Let’s just say I question whether this is a wise way to convene democratic discourse and debate. The military first intervened as episodic violence was growing more and more systemic.
So we are left wondering what we are to do —we, here in the U.S. of A. The Kissingerian pragmatists wring their hands and wonder why we ever let Mubrarek fall in the first place (as if that was our call —as if this was really an option). Those of purer heart tell us the answer is simple, wash our hands of the blood and cut off support for the Egyptian military in its anti-democratic crackdown. Even if we were buying influence with our military aid what would we want it for with such a distasteful scene on display?
Fred Kaplan writing for slate.com boils down the situation and suggests the answer may be simple…if depressing.
It may well be that our influence—or lack thereof—will be the same, regardless of whether we keep aiding the Egyptian military. If it’s unclear what course of action will best serve U.S. interests, maybe that leaves a clear path to pursue U.S. values instead.
And so, in full acknowledgment of the uncertainties, dilemmas, and risks, I return to the first line of this column: The United States should cut off all military aid to Egypt.
As soon as possible, the security forces have to stop shooting the street protestors and try simply to contain the violence. The White House must convince them that they cannot kill their way to stability. They have to regain the trust of their own people and of the world by offering a clear and workable plan to create democracy. They’ve got to show they can do what Morsi had no intention of doing: building democratic institutions and culture from the ground up.
Something along these lines is the only path for the military and the moderates to regain American and world confidence. Otherwise, Obama will be obliged to do what he knows will fail—simply cut off ties to democracy’s one last, slim hope in Egypt.