False choices on Egypt

World leaders and foreign-policy experts are effectively acquiescing in the brutality of Egypt’s generals


A surprising number of world leaders and foreign-policy experts are effectively acquiescing in the continued brutality of Egypt’s generals. They argue that support for the military is the only way to restore stability in the Arab world’s most populous state and to limit wider regional turmoil.

But this is just one of several false choices misinforming the debate. It is certain to ensure more unrest, not less.

After overthrowing Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the military could have been a positive force if it had put in place a transition plan that included all groups, including Mr. Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

But instead of encouraging Egyptians to settle differences through democratic means, the generals and their anti-Morsi allies invoked the threat of “terrorism.” They took the ruthless, likely fateful, decision to crack down on peaceful demonstrators.

The choice the generals are promoting is that the world must decide between them and instability. “At this point, it’s army or anarchy,” one Israeli official told the New York Times. Israel has been vigorously lobbying the United States and Europe to back the generals.

Last weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia endorsed the crackdown. He and other gulf monarchs, who hate the Brotherhood, have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt’s treasury.

There is a better path: to choose not to help the military, which is making things worse and could fuel a generation of Islamists to choose militancy over the ballot box. The release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak from prison would be the ultimate repudiation of the 2011 revolution. Is that in the best long-term interests of the United States? Obviously not.

There is much at stake in the U.S. relationship with Egypt, including the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, counterterrorism cooperation, priority treatment for ships transiting the Suez Canal, and overflight rights for planes to and from Afghanistan. But Egypt benefits from this relationship too, as do the generals.

President Obama’s muted chastising of the generals and his indecisive reaction to the slaughter does not inspire confidence. Instead of wringing their hands, administration officials should suspend the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Egypt — including the delivery of Apache helicopters — until the military puts the country on a peaceful path.

Some say the aid can easily be replaced by the Persian Gulf states. But they have often promised aid — for Palestinians, for instance — and failed to deliver. The United States has provided Egypt with an estimated $60 billion over three decades.

Egypt cannot subsist on handouts. It must develop a real economy to provide jobs, education, and opportunities to its people. That road to stability will require tourism and foreign investment.

But that cannot happen in a country in perpetual turmoil, with a repressive military intent on obliterating its adversaries. The United States should not be complicitous in this unfolding disaster.