Law and order and the economy in Egypt continue to deteriorate under military rule. That makes U.S. support of the government installed after last year’s coup d’etat increasingly precarious.
Hopes for democracy in Egypt prompted by the events of the 2011 Arab Spring, including the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, have rapidly diminished. Popular elections were held in 2012; Mohammed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, won and was installed as president. What was considered by some Egyptians to be overly rapid movement by Mr. Morsi to a more Islamic posture for the country brought demonstrations against him.
The Egyptian military, which had been effectively in power since 1952, and had given itself important economic franchises as well, felt threatened by Mr. Morsi’s policies. Using the street demonstrations against him as justification, the military overthrew him in a coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last June.
Under U.S. law, the coup should have led to a cessation of American aid to Egypt, which totals about $2 billion a year and is mostly military. Much of the aid reimburses U.S. defense contractors for their production and training expenses.
As a result, and because of the strategic role that Egypt has played for years in the Middle East — including the protection of Israel — President Obama did not cut off aid to the coup-installed regime.
For show or for real, Egypt’s military leaders have laid out a schedule for a theoretical return to democratic rule, which includes a new constitution and elections. It is not clear which order they envisage for the writing of the constitution and the holding of elections — or whether General al-Sisi intends to be a candidate and attempt to preserve military rule by that means.
What is clear is that the Egyptian military does not intend to relinquish power. The military coup was just that, and Egyptians have seen the last of democracy for now, at least until they can wrest it once more from military hands. The question is how long that will take.
For the United States, the need to separate itself from Egypt’s generals by cutting off remaining aid is clear. Otherwise, U.S.-Egyptian relations will go down when the generals’ regime does.