America’s confused, half-hearted policy toward Egypt

Shadi Hamid writes: John Kerry felt more threatened by his own administration’s partial aid “cut” to Egypt than Egypt’s generals did. Or so it seemed. In a visit to Cairo on November 3, America’s top diplomat insisted that the “aid issue is a very small issue,” as if to tell Egyptians not to worry—that it was something the U.S. had to do against its will, and that this slap on the wrist, like all the previous ones, too, would pass.

What was more concerning, however, was that Kerry felt the need to heap an inordinate amount of praise on Egypt’s military rulers, suggesting either a great deal of cynicism or the possibility that he hadn’t been briefed on Egyptian politics for weeks on end. “The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said, referring to the military’s timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections. “The roadmap [is moving] in the direction that everybody has been hoping for,” he added. In reality, Egypt, on almost any conceivable political indicator, is more repressive today than it was under the Mubarak regime. The sheer ferocity of the post-coup crackdown continues, with a slate of repressive laws recently announced in the guise of Egypt’s “war on terrorism.”

Presumably, this is why U.S. officials — recognizing the dangerous path Egypt was traveling down — felt compelled to announce some sort of change in the aid relationship. But, even then, the aid “cut”—which is itself a misnomer since the aid was always likely to resume — was largely symbolic, with little meaningful impact on the military. An aid cut, to be effective, needs to change the calculus of Egypt’s generals. But, in this case, there was little at stake: all essential aid would continue to flow (and one of the army’s biggest perks—”cashflow financing” — would be unaffected).

In case there was any doubt, senior U.S. officials went out of their way to belittle the aid cut during the policy rollout, admitting it would have little impact, and perhaps wasn’t even designed to have an impact in the first place. [Continue reading…]

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