Egypt has undergone widespread changes since “Arab Spring” protesters sparked the ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak early in 2011. That leadership vacuum was filled first by the military, then in late June by the election of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi to the presidency.
But despite that dramatic shift of power, for now, this financial formula apparently persists: Egypt will soon again receive a large amount of financial aid from the United States.
According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. diplomats are primed to provide $1 billion in debt relief to Egypt as “part of a gilded charm offensive that Washington hopes will help shore up the country’s economy and prevent its new Islamist leadership from drifting beyond America’s foreign-policy orbit.”
Among the arguments for that investment: President Morsi has pledged to elevate civil rights in Egypt. He has included a few Christians and women in his government (though not as many or at as high a level as originally pledged). Last week at a nonaligned nations conference in Tehran, he distanced himself from his hosts by calling for Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad to step down — and by warning Iran to stay out of Arab affairs.
And yes, U.S. presidents from both major parties long gave ample support to the Mubarak government despite knowing all too well its repressive nature.
Their motive: Limited American influence in the Mideast’s most populous nation is better than no influence.
Now some arguments against continuing our aid to Egypt, which was up to $1.3 billion a year for its military before Mr. Mubarak’s forced exit:
President Morsi remains strongly tied to fundamentalist Islamic groups. Though he said would honor Egypt’s international treaties, he has signaled that he wants to “amend” the 1978 Camp David peace accord with Israel. He has expressed interest in obtaining the freedom of Omar Abdel-Rahman, now serving a life sentence in North Carolina for his conspiratorial connection to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Intimidation and outright violence against Coptic Christians have escalated since he became president.
And from The Jerusalem Post last week: “Authorities in Egypt have forbidden the last active synagogue in the country from holding high holiday services for the first time in 176 years, Egyptian state news outlet Al-Ahram reported Monday.” Liviana Ramez, president of the International Association of Egyptian Jews in Israel, told the BBC that the move marked “the end of Jewish life in Egypt.”
Such flagrant abuse of religious rights should be met with a sharp reduction in U.S. aid. Ultimately, it would be difficult to justify any funding to a nation that commits itself to the radical Islamist cause.
Of course, discontinuing aid to Egypt would be a serious step. A positive resolution of Egypt’s severe debt problem is in America’s interest. So is the leverage that money could buy us as a down payment on maintaining a harmonious relationship with the only Mideast nation to ever make real peace with Israel.
But as U.S. diplomat Robert Hormats said last week in Cairo, Egyptian “progress will only be possible if the talents of all citizens are drawn upon and all have a voice — men and women, all religious groups, and all parts of the country.”
And Egypt’s leaders should understand that American financial assistance to their country could become impossible if they fail to keep their promises of international harmony and religious tolerance.