A military coup deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi a week ago today. Well, at least it looked a lot like a military coup.
Yet assorted U.S. and Egyptian officials refuse to call that apparent coup a coup.
Their reluctance to use the term likely stems, in large part, from U.S. law’s prohibition against giving foreign aid to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed in a military coup d’état or ... a decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
But can U.S. aid to Egypt, currently $1.5 billion a year, still play a positive role in that crucial Mideastern nation of more than 80 million people?
President Barack Obama, like numerous predecessors, apparently intends to keep that funding going in the hopes of exerting economic leverage on Egypt.
And Egypt, with the help of American financial support, long served as a secular bulwark of relative calm in a sea of regional turmoil.
That stability, however, came at a high price — and not just in U.S. taxpayer dollars. U.S. presidents from both parties looked the other way for three decades while propping up President Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime as it stifled dissent to sustain one-party rule.
That house of cards finally came crashing down with President Mubarak’s ouster less than three weeks after the Egyptian people took to the streets in massive numbers in early 2011. It was the Egyptian edition of the Arab Spring.
Then last summer, in Egypt’s first free election, Mr. Morsi won the presidency.
Unfortunately, his Muslim Brotherhood allegiance all too quickly manifested itself. Mr. Morsi clearly wasn’t committed to democratic government.
Nor did he show any ability to — or even interest in — reviving Egypt’s reeling economy, which remains plagued by extremely high unemployment, especially among its restless youth.
Mr. Morsi instead suppressed the political opposition and tried to seize virtual dictatorial powers by changing the nation’s new constitution.
That set the stage for last week’s ... change of management.
On today’s Commentary page, Jonah Goldberg makes a sharp case against much of President Obama’s “realism” about Egypt and other foreign-policy hot spots.
Then again, Mr. Obama’s not the first U.S. president who has had to make tough choices about Egypt — and other countries that are short on democratic traditions and long on radical Islamic fervor.
Meanwhile, regardless of past mistakes by this and other U.S. presidents, America now must focus on the present — and future — of Egypt.
And even with U.S. financial aid still flowing at present, America’s influence in Egypt is obviously limited,
White House spokesman Jay Carney offered this accurate assessment Monday: “This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation.”
That situation has included rampant violence in Egypt over the past week, with soldiers battling diehard Morsi backers.
But if the Egyptian military wants to convince the world that legitimate self-government is its goal, the sooner it can fully return power to civilians, with free and fair elections, the better.
And if and when the Egyptian people elect a new leader, let’s hope they choose one who will advance, not reverse, their long-overdue move to democracy.