Reports that the United States will significantly cut aid to Egypt are the latest worrying sign of the Obama administration’s shortsighted and misguided policies in a turbulent Arab world.
The U.S. has yet to make public the announcement or the scale of the cuts, which are expected to cover military and economic assistance, according to officials.
Based on the media reports, it seems as if Washington’s Egypt policy is being made by committee, in the negative sense of the word.
However, Egypt is experiencing conditions that are anything but normal, and a purely bureaucratic approach is the last thing that is needed to help this critically important country weather the storm it faces.
The reports that military aid will be cut, while maintaining funding for “counterterrorism,” signals an American approach that naively believes such moves make sense politically. The reduction in aid is designed to target money earmarked for Egypt’s military, but will somehow exclude money that helps support security in two vital areas: the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, which have experienced a recent upsurge in terrorist attacks.
Cutting aid to Egypt’s most important national institution, the armed forces, at this important juncture is something that will certainly have repercussions – have American officials anticipated this?
The Americans have naturally been in a quandary since President Mohammad Morsi was ousted after popular protests shook Cairo and other cities, as millions of Egyptians were outraged by the Muslim Brotherhood’s abuse of power and unilateral attempt to take their country in a radically different direction.
The U.S. declined to label Morsi’s ouster a coup a few months ago, but the bureaucratic decision to cut aid appears to be the worst way to get the implicit message across: We believe that it was a coup, and will punish you, but we can’t say this openly.
Another problem is the timing of the decision on Egypt, since the media reports suggest that administration officials delayed the move because they were busy with developments in Syria. If a superpower can’t handle moving ahead simultaneously with policy decisions on two fundamentally important countries in the region, it raises serious questions about how seriously the White House takes the Middle East.
On the other hand, Egyptian officials should also take note of their own behavior, which is set squarely on excluding the Muslim Brotherhood and punishing its leaders. The news that Morsi will go on trial for murder next month represents another challenge for the Egyptian authorities, namely their ability to ensure that a fair trial takes place. A stunted, biased judicial process will only enflame passions further, which is the last thing needed by Egypt and the Egyptians.