As tempting as it may be to send a message to the Egyptian military, which is aggressively re-establishing full control of the country, the Obama administration should not cut off U.S. aid.
The situation there presents a conundrum that defies easy answers, but one thing is certain: Suspending the annual $1.5 billion assistance would further reduce American clout at a time when U.S. influence in the explosive region is already waning.
President Barack Obama has until now been loathe to halt the aid package, even refusing to call the military ouster of Mohammed Morsi a coup because that would legally require the end to U.S assistance.
Now, in the aftermath of the bloody suppression of Morsi’s followers over the past week, the president is contemplating such a move. In fact, his administration’s spokespeople took pains this week to deny several news reports that the decision to reduce or suspend aid had already been made.
Israel reportedly has been lobbying American officials to sustain the U.S. aid package to Egypt, a fact that has been disproportionately highlighted in the mainstream media as if to lay blame on Israel if that course is taken.
Israel, understandably, is watching the unfolding of events on its southern border with increasing anxiety. The Jewish state has much at stake in the outcome. There is no question that the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood posed a grave threat to the future of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which, however cold, has prevailed for nearly 35 years.
Adding fuel to the regional fire are conspiracy theories like the outrageous one espoused by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told his party leaders this week that he has evidence that Israel was involved in last month’s overthrow of Morsi.
Beyond Israel, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood also posed a serious threat to Western interests in the region as well as to the future of Egypt itself, a view shared by the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets to call for Morsi’s ouster.
While it is painful to see the Egyptian military laying siege to the protesters and killing so many of its own people, there appears to be a palpable sense among many Egyptians that the military can provide a better path toward the future than the Muslim Brotherhood, which had enough time to prove its worth and failed miserably.
The United States should not give the Egyptian generals a green light to return to the authoritarian days of Hosni Mubarak. But in order to exert any influence, Washington needs to use its formidable aid package as a way to encourage political reform. Walking away won't make that happen. It needs to stay at the table and develop a coherent policy — before it is too late.