Thoughts on a debate on Egypt

The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka wrote an article for the New York Times where she criticized the Obama administration for having not defined as a coup d’etat the July 3 Egyptian military’s takeover of the Egyptian government and ouster of President Mohammad Morsy and the cabinet constituted of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ms. Pletka is right that the military intervention led by Field Marshal Abdul Fatah el-Sisi is a coup d’etat. After all, like it or not, the ousted government was the first democratically elected – that is, elected by the people – and a military intervention to depose it is nothing short of a coup regardless of what that government, which had repeatedly refused to step down despite months of protests, had done up to that point.

However, there is a key component that is missing in Ms. Pletka’s article. Her article, whose purpose is to actually start up a debate on the future of Egypt, could have been improved by adding discussion about the consequences of a possible definition of the Islamist-led government deposition by the military on the Obama administration’s part. Arguably the main consequence is a section in the Foreign Assistance Act, correctly cited by Washington Post’s Max Fisher, that cancels any form of U.S. aid to a foreign country that has undergone a coup d’etat.

U.S. aid is largely needed in Egypt not just for economic but also for security reasons, as the country is currently among the most divided countries in the world with two large groups that have radically different views about its future and don’t seem even remotely likely to make an iota of a compromise, and minority groups that fear discrimination on a daily basis. And considering that the Obama administration is not interested in the allegedly anti-American Muslim Brotherhood that had also been oppressing its people, it is understandably not interested in defining the July 3 deposition of Mr. Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood as a coup d’etat.

Thus the Obama administration is left with flexibility in the form of more policy alternatives. It could cancel or suspend partial or complete shipment of military equipment and weapons – and it has. It could also cancel or suspend non-military aid partially or completely as well – and it has. And the third alternative is to simply condemn violence conducted by either side, including the military – and the Obama administration has done that too, and it keeps doing it. If the administration calls the July 3, 2013 intervention a coup d’etat, it will simply tie its hands while at the same time leave the Egyptian military on its own to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. And the latter will likely start using that Obama administration’s statement to its advantage playing the victim card, while not necessarily being the best alternative not just for Egypt but particularly for the United States.

The question of whether tyranny replaced another tyranny that had earlier replaced a third tyranny, and whether the first and third tyrannies resemble – that is, the status quo ante that Ms. Pletka mentioned in her article – is very hard to answer considering the most recent history of Egypt including the dictatorial regime under Hosni Mubarak and the dictatorial nature of the governments led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military thereafter. On the one hand, Egypt could be an example of how a tyranny should be fought with tyranny. However, on the other hand, this new government – whether led by Field Marshal Abdul Fatah el-Sisi or by the Egyptian military – could be the worst alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of whether it is better or worse than a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood, as it brings the country to a slippery slope of Catch 22 in its efforts to bring democracy. One thing is certain though – the democratic transition of the country has long way to go.

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Filed under Civil Rights and Liberties, Politics, The Law

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