The crackdown over defiant Morsi supporters that has caused more than 600 persons to be killed in Egypt complicated the US dilemma over the country. Should the USA continue to support the Egyptian government backed by the army or should it cut off the support. Each of these options will cause either the Egyptian military or the Muslim Brotherhood to call for more protest and turn its back against the US.
The equation is no easier after the deaths of over 600 Egyptians killed and thousands more injured in three days since the army crackdown, on the order of the minister of defense el-Sisi. The army and police are brutally disbanding Morsi’s supporters from the streets. Even though the Egyptian military-backed government could be easily seen to be benefiting US administration favor, Obama’s reaction and the stance of US Senators are signs of the difficult choice to be made. The question is whether the military or the Muslim Brotherhood will be the next US enemy?
The split within the US Congress, over cutting off aid to Egypt or not, can be interpreted as a sign of this dilemma. The subject will certainly be a hot-button issue considering the way Congressmen are already passionately speaking about it. Although Democrats and Republicans are separated on the question, Republicans themselves are also split. Many in Congress have changed their stance since the brutal military crackdown disbanding pro-Morsi protestors. The protest in Cairo and other cities in the country have even taken the form of civil war as armed civilians battle the army.
As he has already, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeated Sunday that the US should stop aid to the Egyptian army. McCain even called the crackdown “a violation of everything that we stood for.”
“We’re not sticking with our values,” McCain added. Even as many members of Congress support this stance, many others are opposed. Pete King, a Republican who chairs the House panel on counter terrorism and intelligence is among them. “We certainly shouldn’t cut off all aid,” he said. King explained that curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt’s interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.
Obviously, the decision will be made between arguments about the strategic position of the Egyptian army and the defense of the US image in regard of the bloodshed taking place in Egypt since July when Morsi was overthrown by the army following a week of mass protest.
Some Persian Gulf states are making offers to help Egypt deal with the economic issues it is facing, which would cause the USA to lose its advantage the strategic ally that Egypt has always been. Saudi Arabia is among those countries that have already pledged billions of dollars to Egypt.
Analysts think that Congress should consider the fact that the Egyptian military may lose patience and turn to those who can represent a risk to the USA. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told USA TODAY that Egyptian nationalism may push the country’s army leaders to a hard decision. They have done so in the past when they closed the 120-mile-long Suez Canal after the Six Day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
According to Cordeman, Egyptian nationalism is a critical factor. Historically, Egypt’s leaders have been sensitive to the appearance that outside powers are pushing them around, which explains the closure of the Suez Canal.
Other analysts see decisions made by Washington leading Egyptians leaders towards nationalism if America pushes very hard. President Barack Obama canceled a joint military exercises scheduled for September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. Analysts agree that if the Senate obtains a cut or suspension of $1.3 billion in annual military aid, it would spark Egypt’s leaders to act out of their nationalism.
Up to now, Obama is playing it well; refusing to declare Morsi’s removal a coup and declaring that the U.S. stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government, whilst avoiding the appearance of pushing the Egyptians around. The US President said that America cannot determine Egypt’s future.
Knowing this risk, James Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, presents Egypt as “a cornerstone for the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.” U.S. Central Command, responsible for the Middle East region, explains that US operation in Afghanistan would be more difficult without using Egyptian territory. Over 2,000 U.S. military aircraft have flown through Egyptian airspace, supporting missions in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, U.S. Central Command, told USA Today.
According to the Bahrain-based fleet, about 35 to 45 U.S. 5th Fleet naval ships pass through the Suez Canal annually, including carrier strike groups.
Considering the fact that Egypt has allowed U.S. warships to be expedited, which often means getting to the head of a very long line of ships waiting for access to the canal, Kenneth Pollack, an analyst at the Brookings Institution. said that the “Egyptian military has always been good to us.”
Obama has been balanced up to now in his stance on Egypt, between the need to advance U.S. interests with “the principles that we believe in.”
The balance should also take into account the Muslim Brotherhood, which seems to refuse any compromise with the Egyptian army. The Brotherhood called for more daily demonstrations to demand the restoration of the legitimate government. The movement demands that the elected President, Morsi – who belongs to the Brotherhood – be released and restored to office.
In his book , The Brotherhood: America’s Next Great Enemy, Erick Stakelbeck, a Mideast specialist, recalls that many other Islamist movements were born from the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan – even Al Qaeda and Hamas, the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing. Like many other analysts, Stakelbeck is convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood could radicalize itself much more and join other radical Islamist and start fighting the US.
General el-Sisi on Sunday launched another appeal the Muslim Brotherhood, saying “there’s a place for everybody”. But the fact is that, for the Brotherhood, the only answer is the release of Morsi and the restoration of his power.
Source: AP, USA TODAY, Reuters, Philly.com, The Nation and Washington Post.