The Obama administration rebuked Egypt’s ruling generals last week for their bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by suspending the delivery of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military aid. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. would withhold several big-ticket items—including Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets—until Egypt made “credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government.” A spokesman for the Egyptian military, which toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi this summer, denounced the U.S. for “abandoning Egypt as it fights a serious war against terror.” But senior U.S. officials said much of the $1.5 billion annual aid package to Egypt would continue to flow, including support for Cairo’s anti-terrorism and border control efforts.
This punitive measure was long overdue, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The junta has used U.S.-supplied guns to kill more than 1,000 Islamist demonstrators following its overthrow of Egypt’s democratically elected president. This aid cut may not persuade the generals to change course, but it could help redeem the U.S.’s “reputation as a champion of democracy.”
But at what cost? asked the Chicago Tribune. Every dollar the U.S. withholds from Egypt “creates an opportunity for a long list of others who would relish greater influence in Cairo.” Saudi Arabia’s despots have already promised to make up any aid reduction, and the generals could start buying their weapons from China and -Russia—who, unlike the U.S., won’t lobby for the restoration of civilian rule.
It’s not clear that our $1.5 billion aid package ever gave us any real influence in Cairo anyway, said Michael Crowley in Time.com. It hasn’t stopped the junta from slaughtering its opponents and ignoring Washington’s requests for restraint. If the generals now ease their crackdown, we’ll know our aid dollars buy us leverage over the military, and that the program should continue. If they don’t, it will confirm what many in Washington have long suspected: that we were “just being taken advantage of.”