What should the American response to the latest outbreak of violence in Egypt be?

Not entirely surprisingly, the editors in the New York Times call for a complete cutoff of aid in Military Madness in Cairo:
But the major blame rests with General Sisi. He seized power from a democratically elected government. He controls the security forces that have persecuted and brutalized political opponents. And he approved orders for heavily armed forces to use deadly force against peaceful protesters with a very legitimate political grievance — the ouster and secret detention of Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

Washington’s influence on Egyptian public opinion generally is limited. That has less to do with the low-key tone Mr. Obama has taken than with the preceding decades of uncritical United States support for past dictators like Mr. Mubarak and the military forces supporting them, to the neglect of most of Egypt’s 84 million people. It is past time for Mr. Obama to start correcting that imbalance. Suspending assistance to Egypt’s anti-democratic military would be a good place to start.
While the editorial had some mild criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, the criticism was limited to blaming them for not negotiating a peaceful end to the confrontation and failing to reach out to minorities. Morsi’s incompetence, his power grabs, his brutal suppression of protests and his indifference to Copts are all ignored. (This was much worse than simply failing to reach out.)

General Sisi
General Sisi Media blames him for chaos, while power grab by
Morsi and Brotherhood goes unmentioned.
Credit: Wiki Commons

The editorial reflected the reporting of its Cairo correspondent, which was generally sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. (See memeorandum for more.)

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes that the interim military government has crossed a line, and now It’s Time to Threaten Egypt’s Aid:
Instead, the U.S. should offer a firm and concrete ultimatum that future aid is conditioned on Egypt’s undertaking a series of changes. For starters, the Egyptian regime should unequivocally apologize for the slaughter of protesters; the officers who ordered Wednesday’s massacre should be held to account and court-martialed; and there should be no further willful mass killings. If Egypt doesn’t comply, 100 percent of the U.S.’s military aid should be suspended.

There are costs to cutting off aid. The U.S. would lose its leverage over Egypt — although leverage seems to have no value if it can’t be used at a time like this. The U.S. also risks losing valuable intelligence that Egypt’s military would otherwise provide about jihadist groups in the Sinai.

But the costs are worth it. The status quo is simply too problematic, pragmatically and morally. It’s time to threaten Egypt’s aid — and, if necessary, to suspend it.
Gartenstein-Ross’s suggestion sounds reasonable but what if conditioning the aid on real reforms, has a negative side effect?

Ralph Peters, on the other hand declares, This blood is on the hands of Muslim Brotherhood:
Is the Egyptian military an ideal ally? Nope. But it’s a far better bet than Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood turned out to be.

The danger now is that the administration and naïfs in Congress will cut aid to the Egyptian military and curl up into a snit. That would only make the Egyptians who want a reasonably free, generally tolerant and ultimately democratic Egypt even madder at us. And Egypt’s the most important Arab country.

Do we really need to make additional enemies in the region? Of moderates and secularists? In a quest to be “fair” to fanatics?
Last week Barry Rubin made a related point:
Let’s be frank: the Egyptian army did a great service not just to Egypt’s people but also to the U.S. government, because it saved its strategic balance in the Middle East.

While it’s hard to be sympathetic to Egypt’s military government after yesterday’s violence, is it really the worst option for Egypt? Is it really the worst option for America’s strategic interests? Did the Muslim Brotherhood make violence inevitable? Would cutting aid simply send a signal to the current government or would it strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood? It’s important to recall that despite Morsi being the first democratically elected president of Egypt, he effectively engineered a coup of his own last year.

The certitude with which some commentators insist that the current situation is intolerable contrasts with their relative silence over Morsi’s power grab last year. It also ignores Erdogan’s consolidation of power and erosion of freedoms in Turkey. It ignores the ongoing targeting of opposition figures in Tunisia, too.

Both Turkey and Tunisia are ruled by supposedly moderate Islamist parties. Would the continued rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt follow the same trajectory of increasing government power and decreasing liberty if the army hadn’t intervened?

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