Not in so many words, the United States seems to have finally acknowledged the obvious: last summer’s ouster of Mohammed Morsi from Egypt’s presidential palace amounted to a military coup.
Barack Obama’s apparent decision to withhold some of its $1.5-billion in annual military aid to Egypt, where a dictatorship continues to preside over a brutal crackdown on dissent, is an appropriate response to an unacceptable situation.
Canada has recently been riveted by the drama of two Canadians, now free, who spent weeks in a Cairo jail. Their ordeal was minor compared with the oppression and violence that are increasingly shaping daily life for many Egyptians.
Security forces have killed more than a thousand supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood since July. Mr. Morsi himself is now set to stand trial on dubious charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the palace last December. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, meanwhile, shows no signs of restraint, issuing decree after decree, slowly nudging Egypt toward totalitarianism.
This is not the Egypt that was meant to emerge out of the Arab Spring, but it is the reality. It is also reality that Washington is in no position to cut Egypt off completely, which is why it did not characterize the military’s power grab as a coup in the first place. It would have been obliged to comply with the Foreign Assistance Act, which requires that all aid must be halted after a coup. That would have posed too great a threat to regional stability.
Some have dismissed a compromise – not sending tanks, helicopters and fighter jets, maintaining non-military assistance and supporting counterintelligence operations in the Sinai – as half-measures. But foreign policy is always a matter of degrees.
The withholding of some military aid delivers a strong message that the U.S. supports Egyptians’ demands for democracy. Violent military rule, with arbitrary arrest and killing without consequences, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, cannot be countenanced.
General al-Sisi and his inner circle may or may not listen. In some ways, what matters more is that millions of Egyptians, appalled by their country’s current turmoil, know they are not alone.