Egypt No Good Choices and No Likely Easy Solutions
Harry C. Blaney III
The events of the last week or so have underlined the difficulties of any good outcome in Egypt. They have also again highlighted the extremes of the arguments about what America should do. But the playing field has changed dramatically, events and forces both inside Egypt and without have increased the difficulties. Sadly, despite strong US warnings and hopes, the Egyptian military have indeed gone beyond any reasonable or needed use of brutal force and may have created their own undoing in the long run by going a bridge too far and closing the door on broad reconciliation necessary for a reasonably democratic and stable governance.
I agree also with many commentators that American leverage in Egypt at this point is minimal but to cut our dialogue off and gaining nothing in return is likely not a wise option for us or for our allies. We talked decades ago to the Soviets who have done worse, we recognized and talk all the time to the Chinese communist government that killed millions of their fellow citizens in the past, and dealt with right wing brutal governments in Latin America. If any action by us could save lives it likely would be worth the effort, but most experts in this area believe that given the financial support of some Arab states in the many billions of dollars and with the military leadership now cornered by their own acts, they are now acting in clear desperation to ensure they survive – literally. They are unlikely to back down now.
President Obama’s strategy has been of caution but we must remember that he and his key leaders have tried mightily to influence the military not to use brutal force. His opponents that blame him because he failed, neglect to recognize that we had almost no leverage given the assessment of the military of their domestic imperative to assert their rule and ensure the regimes security and restore order. But times change and so may their perception of Egypt’s and their own position.
Further, the other powers were playing contradictory or ineffective roles. Saudi Arabia and their Arab allies with their $12 billion have more influence on the Egyptian regime than we do. Even Israel, supposedly our ally and democratic, favors the military rulers over the Brotherhood. The EU shakes its finger but does nothing or very little. Both sides blame the US but some recognize that we tried to work with Morsi to be moderate and inclusive and tried to urge the military to bring back democracy quickly with broad participation of all parties. White not successful they were the right position for America to take.
As many have pointed out, it is Egypt, not America that has leverage – they give us preference in passage in the Suez Canal, in granting military overflights, and in still supporting the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and anti-terrorism efforts. But the key in the end is to remain able over the long run to influence events in a very volatile region.
Many have argued that building a decent democratic government is up to the Egyptians and we should keep our hand off of the entire situation. I do not share that view. Nor do I share the view that we should immediately cut our military assistance – at some point that may be necessary – but for the moment we might, just might, have a voice on some key actions and it is possible that the Egyptian military for reasons of their own and the necessities of reality and changing circumstances would not want to entirely cut their ties to us, and in time, want our support and listen to our views.
We need to play the long hand and urge still moderation and restraint as we have done. We need to keep out lines of communication with all parties in Egypt. We need also to address the problem of outside actors and see if they can be persuaded that their real interests are for a wide-based, democratic and rule of law future for the Egyptian government.
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