Time To Cut Off Egypt

Ali Gharib on the crackdown in Egypt, and why it should spur the U.S. to belatedly cut off aid to Egypt's coup government.

When the Egyptian military ousted the government of Mohammed Morsi and took power, the Obama administration equivocated on declaring the move a coup, fearful of triggering a law that would cut off generous military aid to the country. The Senate later convened for a debate on the subject. While Rand Paul's amendment to do so appeared to be little more than a public relations stunt, several Senators agreed that the law mandated cutting off aid, but voted down the amendment; they never explained how, exactly, they rationalized skirting the statute. Even a clearly worded American law could not stop aid from flowing to the Egyptian military. Why, then, would the Egyptian military's brutal and bloody attacks against massive street protests?

Starting early in the morning, Egyptian security forces began raiding the protest encampments of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Reports from the scene painted a harrowing picture: thick clouds of teargas and smoke from burning tires, Morsi supporters hurling rocks and the army returning fire from sniper positions. According to the official count of the military regime, nearly 150 people have already died. The government ended its day of shedding blood by declaring a state of emergency—moving from de facto to de jure military rule—and mandating a curfew in 14 provinces including Cairo.

The White House, still holding onto the illusion that its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt's military—about a fifth of its reported budget—buys some kind of mythical leverage, urged restraint. "The hard truth is that the United States has no real influence to lose right now anyway, and immediate impact isn't the point," wrote Marc Lynch. "Taking a (much belated) stand is the only way for the United States to regain any credibility—with Cairo, with the region, and with its own tattered democratic rhetoric." The administration refused to budge on calling a spade a spade. Nonetheless, what began as a legal imperative to cut off aid to Egypt's military masters—ignored by lawmakers and absurdly sidestepped by the administration—has morphed into a moral one: America funds an army that today carried out a massacre of its own citizens.

That we have scenes and photographs—I cannot recommend more highly this set by the great local photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy—to gawk at is a testament to those brave journalists on the ground who covered events. At least two were killed by fire from Egyptian forces; reports of other journalist deaths have circulated; yet other media workers were beaten, harassed and threatened by authorities—including the Daily Beast's Mike Giglio. The frequency seems so high as to suggest journalists were explicitly targeted, or perhaps the violence was just that indiscriminate. In any case, the moral transgressions committed were only clarified in these attacks against journalists; their reports themselves painted the broader picture.

The Muslim Brotherhood has responded in typical fashion, attacking unprecedented numbers of Christian churches across Egypt, in a paranoid fit. That serves as a reminder of how the Brotherhood operates, and its own failings as Egypt's ruling party. Morsi's democratic credentialas were called into question in the first place because of his government's efforts to marginalize Egypt's minorities and its political opponents. But no level of authoritarianism in Morsi's deposed government could justify the level of violence today. Supporters of the coup have lost their moral high ground. Theirs was a faustian bargain, and they have brought shame to those among them who claimed political labels like "liberal" and "democrat." How, today, can they not be seen as cheering a military with the same failings as Morsi's government, if not more grave ones?

Reconciliation now seems hopeless; Egypt is shattered. The Washington Post editorial board, with whom I frequently disagree, correctly noted that the Obama administration's actions make it "complicit in the new and horrifyingly bloody crackdown." At least one liberal, the Egyptian politician Mohammed El Baradei, resigned the position he took as vice president after the coup. There can be no justification for America and its leaders in the Obama administration to not also resign its role as the military regime's funder.