In Egypt, the United States once again faces a dilemma, partly of its own making, with few if any good options for resolving it.
President Barack Obama interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to lay out the U.S. prescription for ending the military crackdown that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptians protesting the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president.
After Wednesday’s bloody confrontation between Egypt’s military and Morsi’s supporters, Obama urged:
An end to the state of emergency. The beginning of a process of “national reconciliation.” Respect for the rights of women and religious minorities. Continued plans for constitutional reforms and for democratic elections to choose a new president and parliament.
Right now, these goals seem more like wishful thinking than practical policy. In short, we lack the political leverage to make them happen. As for how they come about, well, said Obama, “That’s a task for the Egyptian people.
“We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.”
In fact, we’ve supported the Egyptian military, to the tune of about $1.3 billion a year, since shortly after the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords were signed in 1978. We supported Egypt’s military ruler, Hosni Mubarak, for 30 years until he resigned in 2011 in the face of mass protests.
Even now, when Egypt is being run by its defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, we refuse to call Morsi’s forcible ouster a coup because that would trigger a U.S. law requiring suspension of the military stipend.
Instead, we have basically made token gestures, delaying the scheduled delivery of F-16 fighters and canceling a large joint military exercise next month.
The international community has almost universally condemned the military crackdown – except for two autocratic Gulf states, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, each rich enough to make up for any shortfall in U.S. military aid.
Given the U.S.’s current low standing in Egypt – somehow both sides blame America for the current stalemate, for conflicting reasons – and Secretary of State John Kerry’s preoccupation with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it may demand someone of Vice President Joe Biden’s stature and persuasiveness to broker an interim settlement, leading to a second round of free elections.
It may fail, but at the least it would show that U.S. concern for Egypt’s future transcends cold-blooded geopolitical considerations.