Aid to Egypt should have strings attached

March 9, 2013


— Sequestration is not the best time to be doling out foreign aid, surely the most unpopular item in the federal budget. Especially when the recipient is President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt.

Morsi is intent on getting the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman (the Blind Sheik), serving a life sentence for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center attack that killed six and wounded more than a thousand. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is openly anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and otherwise prolifically intolerant. Just three years ago, Morsi called on Egyptians to nurse their children and grandchildren on hatred for Jews, whom he has called “the descendants of apes and pigs.”

Not exactly Albert Schweitzer. Or even Anwar Sadat. Which left a bad taste when Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling to Cairo, handed Morsi a cool $250 million. (A tenth of which would cover about 25 years of White House tours, no longer affordable under sequestration. Says the administration.)

Nonetheless, we should not cut off aid to Egypt. It’s not that we must blindly support unfriendly regimes. It is perfectly reasonable to cut off aid to governments that are intrinsically hostile and beyond our influence. Subsidizing enemies is merely stupid.

But Egypt is not an enemy, certainly not yet. It may no longer be our strongest Arab ally, but it is still in play. The Brotherhood aims to establish an Islamist dictatorship. Yet it remains a considerable distance from having done so.

Precisely why we should remain engaged. And engagement means using our economic leverage.

Morsi has significant opposition. Six weeks ago, powerful anti-Brotherhood demonstrations broke out in major cities and have continued sporadically ever since. The presidential election that Morsi won was decided quite narrowly — three points, despite the Brotherhood’s advantage of superior organization and a history of social service.

Moreover, having forever been in opposition, on election day the Islamists escaped any blame for the state of the country. Now in power, they begin to bear responsibility for Egypt’s miserable conditions — a collapsing economy, rising crime, social instability. Their aura is already dissipating.

There is nothing inevitable about Brotherhood rule. The problem is that the secular democratic parties are fractured, disorganized and lacking in leadership. And are repressed by the increasingly authoritarian Morsi.

His partisans have attacked demonstrators in Cairo. His security forces killed more than 40 in Port Said. He’s been harassing journalists, suppressing freedom of speech, infiltrating the military and trying to subjugate the courts. He’s already rammed through an Islamist constitution. He is now trying to tilt, even rig, parliamentary elections to the point that the opposition called for a boycott and an administrative court has just declared a suspension of the vote.

Any foreign aid we give Egypt should be contingent upon a reversal of this repression and a granting of space to secular, democratic, pro-Western elements.

That’s where Kerry committed his mistake. Not in trying to use dollar diplomacy to leverage Egyptian behavior, but by exercising that leverage almost exclusively for economic, rather than political, reform.

Kerry’s major objective was getting Morsi to apply for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Considering that some of this $4.8 billion ultimately comes from us, there’s a certain comic circularity to this demand. What kind of concession is it when a foreign government is coerced into ... taking yet more of our money?

We have no particular stake in Egypt’s economy. Our stake is in its politics. Yes, we would like to see a strong economy. But in a country ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood?

Our interest is in a non-Islamist, nonrepressive, nonsectarian Egypt, ruled as democratically as possible. Why should we want a vibrant economy that maintains the Brotherhood in power? Our concern is Egypt’s policies, foreign and domestic.

If we’re going to give foreign aid, it should be for political concessions — on unfettered speech, on an opposition free of repression, on alterations to the Islamist constitution, on open and fair elections.

We give foreign aid for two reasons: (a) to support allies who share our values and our interests, and (b) to extract from less-than-friendly regimes concessions that either bring their policies more in line with ours or strengthen competing actors more favorably inclined toward American objectives.

That’s the point of foreign aid. It’s particularly important in countries like Egypt whose fate is in the balance. But it will only work if we remain clear-eyed about why we give all that money in the first place.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

But Chuckie wants nothing less than a blank check for the Arab-hating Israeli govt..

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Wonder what stupid move Barry will pull next to trump this one.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

The U.S. doesn't give this money away so those countries will then go do whatever they want. We give them money so we can influence their decisions. No money, no influence. Instead of focusing on how bad things are in any particular country or region, think of the worst case scenario, which becomes much more likely without U.S. influence. Not a good situation, I know. But better than the alternative.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

I agree with your frustration. I just don't think you're thinking through exactly how bad a worst case scenario might be. Pakistan, for it's many faults, is a nuclear power. Yet that same country that harbored Bin Laden for years, has not (yet) let any of it's nuclear materials slip into the hands of people who might actually use it. If our foreign aid buys nothing more than that, it'll be money well spent.

For his past, Morsi would probably love to mobilize his country of 90 million against his neighbor who has but 8 million (a bit less actually), voiding a peace deal brokered years ago. Of course, that small country has somewhere between 200 and 300 nuclear missiles of their own and they've said they'd only use them in just that worst case scenario I'm imagining. Again, if we gain nothing more than avoiding the nuclear destruction of that entire region, the aid given to a man who describes his fellow man as descendants of pigs would be money well spent.

Unfortunately, the world is not a nice place and is littered with many not nice people. We deal with them the best we can because not dealing with them is worse.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

Last time Egypt lost, and lost bad. Real bad.

It's been said that the Egyptian soldiers even left their sandals behind as they left running back west where they came from. Will it be different this time? It's a point to remember that no Arab army has won a war against a non Arab country for over a hundred years. Suddenly history is going to change?

It's also been said that it was only due to American pleading that Israel didn't take control of Cairo also. And that was without the use of any any nuclear weapons, the existence of which has never been proven, but the rumors of which have been never ending. But, those rumors have certainly been very useful.

And next time, Israel won't be quite so quick to hand the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt in return for a peace treaty that they have learned the hard way is worth exactly the value of the piece of paper that it's printed on.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

Even a quick analysis of the 1967 war reveals a lack of coordination on the part of the various Arab countries. Jordan did not enter the fray for two days while Egypt's forces were being decimated. Syria sat on the sidelines for two more days while Jordan's forces were wiped out. They then took it on the chin for two days until the cease fire. But what happens if all Arab countries attacked at once? Who knows, but probably not what did happen.

In 1973, Egypt forces surprised an over-confident Israeli military and gained an early advantage. Again, what would have happened if a coordinated attack from Jordan, Syria and Lebanon began simultaneously with Egypt's action?

It would be foolhardy for Israel to believe itself invincible. Superior forces are always susceptible to a highly motivated adversary. That's been Israel's advantage all these years. They know that even one loss means their end. If the Arabs ever became as motivated and were able to achieve tactical coordination, both easily attainable, Israel's advantage would quickly disappear. What would that leave Israel with? A few hundred nuclear weapons. A doomsday scenario I'd rather avoid.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

There's a point that you're overlooking, jhawkinsf.

In Israel, the draft is compulsory for 2 years, except for Arabs, which number about 20% of the citizens. Although they can sign up if they want, and some do, if they believe in democracy.

Women are not exempt from the draft, so don't mess with a woman in Israel if she's got access to an assault rifle, and in wartime, she will, regardless of age. And she'll know how to use it, for sure.

So, out of a population of about 8 million, 6.4 million are well trained soldiers, or veterans that are proficient in the use of weapons. And they will be defending their homeland in case of an invasion, to the death.

In Egypt women stay at home, and don't use weapons. They certainly don't join the army, so that 90 million is cut in half right there.

In Egypt, the Army is not nearly as well trained, and few are actually in the Army. So, the population of 90 million doesn't mean much.

So your numbers might be a bit misleading.

1southernjayhawk 5 years, 3 months ago

There should be strings attached......as in a very strong string to pull back all aid to Egypt. Makes no sense to me to send any money to Egypt to try to buy influence when we are in such poor shape financially. How we suceed as a country with such weak-spined and partisan leadership is beyond me. And I am referring to both sides of the aisle.

juma 5 years, 3 months ago

Aid to Israel should be very very closely monitored and definitely cut back until Israel becomes a true ally and not a blackmail us ally.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.