In his first major move as secretary of state, John Kerry has placed a risky bet on the future of Mohammed Morsi, the fire-breathing and heavy-handed Islamist president of Egypt. Acting for the Obama administration, Secretary Kerry advanced the Egyptian government $250 million as a “down payment” on economic reforms without any reference to far more urgent political reforms.
Of course, it is a bit unfair to fully blame the former Massachusetts senator for this decision. The past four years show that President Barack Obama has made virtually all substantive foreign policy decisions, often with domestic political motives in mind.
So why does the White House deem it wise to help Mr. Morsi out of the bind he has gotten himself into by trying to expand his power beyond its proper limits? He has been pursuing that goal over the protests of the courts and the national legislature. His attempts to rule by fiat have also triggered ongoing demonstrations.
Last week, an Egyptian court blocked Mr. Morsi from holding April parliamentary elections that the opposition had promised to boycott. Meanwhile, massive street protests continued in Port Said.
Of course, cutting off Egyptian aid would bring risks of its own. As Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out on our Friday Commentary page, maintaining some semblance of stability in Egypt is still in America’s interest.
After all, with civil war in Syria; al-Qaida-related activity on the rise in Libya, Algeria and Mali; Lebanon in the clutches of the terrorist group Hezbollah; and Iran’s persisting pursuit of nuclear weapons, the U.S. should strive to keep the lid on in Egypt.
Still, it’s doubtful that we can buy Mr. Morsi’s friendship.
And the down payment announced by Secretary Kerry is just the first slice of $1 billion in economic aid.
Mr. Kerry did make it clear that subsequent payments will depend in great part on Egypt’s success in meeting the strict terms of an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund for $4.8 billion.
But as Reuters reports, the IMF conditions for eliminating various subsidies from Egypt’s budget will cause even greater social turmoil than Egypt has experienced for the past two months. The news agency quotes Egyptian economist Salah Gouda as warning that the IMF ban on subsidies could cause “a revolution of the hungry.”
Only if all major factions in Egyptian politics are united in support of the needed economic reforms is there any hope of the Egyptian government finding a safe way out of the difficult times it faces.
Such unity would require President Morsi to yield substantial power to his critics — something he has shown no inclination for doing.
Though Kerry rightly met with opposition leaders during his visit to Egypt, the decision to grant the government immediate financial aid is bound to weaken the opposition and strengthen Mr. Morsi.
And for the U.S. government, and the Egyptian people, that’s no bargain.