The violence perpetrated by the Egyptian military must not be rewarded with American money.
(Photo: Aly Hazzaa, AP)
Mohamed ElBaradei resigned in protest at the military's violence.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has insisted that the military's intervention was a temporary necessity.
$1.3 billion of U.S. aid goes to the Egyptian military.
Events in Cairo this week should put to rest any remaining illusions about the Egyptian military's intentions to restore a democratic process in that country. Its violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters has effectively ended the possibility of national reconciliation. Its recent appointment of 19 generals as provincial governors further consolidates its control over the country. Thedisbanding of the parliament, suspension of the constitution, arrest and detention of scores of Brotherhood leaders, shuttering of opposition media, and the imposition of a state of emergency and curfew laws set the legal clock back to the darkest days of Mubarak's stranglehold on the country.
Even liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been serving as the vice president of the interim government, recognized Wednesday's crackdown as the end of the "this is not a coup" farce and resigned in protest at the military's violence.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has insisted for weeks that the military's intervention was a temporary necessity, popularly demanded by the people, to prevent a full takeover of the country by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a smart move to allay international criticism about the coup, the military installed a civilian as interim president, the little-known jurist Adly Mansour, and promised to deliver a new constitution through a more inclusive process and return power to an elected government by the end of the year.
That best-case scenario now seems more unlikely than ever. Although Sisi claims not to aspire to the presidency, he quickly made himself minister of defense, gave himself the role of first deputy prime minister, and has coyly indicated that while he would not run for president as general, the door is open if he takes off his uniform. In a widely circulated tweet, one liberal activist wrote "Sisi is Mubarak."
The military's power play clearly has support -- from embittered remnants of theMubarak regime, elements of Egypt's Coptic community who felt increasingly insecure under Muslim Brotherhood rule, and liberals who despise the Brotherhood more than they fear military autocracy. Support also comes from the wealthy Gulf monarchies who view the Muslim Brotherhood as antithetical to their governments. Egypt is a poor country facing bankruptcy. Since the coup, the Gulf sheikdoms have stepped in with more than $12 billion of concessionary loans and critical energy deliveries. They are undoubtedly encouraging Sisi's hard line.
The United States' leverage pales in comparison: a mere $1.5 billion in annual assistance, $1.3 billion of which goes to the military. The Obama administration has resisted calling the military's intervention a coup, since that designation requires a halt to the aid and could undermine what little leverage Washington still has. But Egypt's military is clearly not listening to Washington as it is. Various interlocutors, including most recently Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and deputy secretary of state Bill Burns, received barely a cold shoulder in Cairo.
Their calls for a return to a democratic process have gone unheeded. Yet that remains the only way out of Egypt's crisis. The military's crackdown will inevitably lead to more violence and instability, putting at risk broader US strategic interests. The Obama administration must now make the long overdue move to suspend American assistance until Egypt's government demonstrates a return to a political process.
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of CFR's Civil Society, Markets and Democracy program. She is the author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East.