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March 14, 2013

On Aid to Egypt

Charles Krauthammer this week grudgingly came out in support of continuing U.S. financial aid, despite the many disconcerting human rights developments in President Morsi’s Egypt.  However, he faulted Secretary Kerry for over -emphasizing the economic aspect of our bi-lateral relationship with Egypt, rather than explicitly tying the $250,000,000 of foreign assistance that Kerry announced in Cairo to political concessions from the Morsi regime.

Would that it were so simple.  If the U.S. government could give a few hundred million dollars to Egypt and thereby set it on a firm path to democratic transition it would be money well spent.  Cheap at ten or even a hundred times the paltry sums that the Obama administration has so far dedicated to the massive task of reconstructing Egypt and other countries left in a parlous state by decades of U.S. backed dictatorship.

However, U.S. foreign assistance will only ever be a small part of the solution to Egypt’s many problems, but it  remains a way that the U.S. government can exercise influence in Egypt, and an especially vital way of demonstrating goodwill to the Egyptian people at a time of great political uncertainty.

The U.S. government has much to lose if Egypt continues to slide further into economic and social disarray.  The tens of millions of young people in Egypt, many of whom led the uprising that brought down President Mubarak two years ago aspire for freedom, democracy and human dignity.  These are values that the United States should seek to advance everywhere. If their aspirations are let down the consequences for the United States would be severe with spreading regional unrest, economic dislocation and even direct threats to the United States likely to increase.  The costs to the United States of failure to promote peaceful democratic transition in Egypt should not be underestimated.

The uprising in Egypt, and in other countries of the region, has presented the U.S. commitment to promoting human rights and democracy around the world with a stern test.  It will not be met by pretending that simply attaching conditions on foreign assistance will shape events in line with U.S.preferences.  For one thing, such conditions inevitably provoke a defensive reaction from many Egyptians who object to receiving orders from the United States.

A credible, sustained U.S. policy to support peaceful democratic transition in Egypt will require a purposeful revision and renewal of the long standing relationship with Egypt.  There is an urgent need for immediate economic support to avert an economic collapse, but that is just the start of a long term process that to succeed must be rooted in promoting and enhancing safeguards for basic rights and freedoms for all Egyptians based on the rule of law.

These have not been the major goals of  our relationship for the past thirty years, but they need to be so now.  The costs of failure, and of the instability that would inevitably follow would too great.  The time for a new approach, as Egypt seems locked in political deadlock, has come.