Opinion Brief

Can America's relationship with Egypt be saved?

Egypt's refusal to back down from its decision to arrest 19 Americans deepens a worrying rift between the longtime allies

Tensions between the U.S. and Egypt's provisional military rulers went from bad to worse this week. Egyptian leaders, including newly elected Islamist lawmakers, refused to back down on their decision to arrest 19 Americans and 24 other nongovernmental organization workers accused of aiding violent protests. In response, Washington threatened to cut off $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, arguing that Cairo was launching an illegitimate crackdown on foreign groups that are only trying to promote democracy. Should the U.S. forget about repairing the alliance it had with Egypt for decades under Hosni Mubarak?

Face it. The partnership is over: An Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. once said that "the U.S.-Egypt relationship was like 'a mature marriage,'" says Steven A. Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations. By putting these NGO employees on trial, "the Egyptians are serving divorce papers." The strategic alliance once helped contain Soviet influence and forge peace between Arabs and Israelis, but the new Egypt clearly wants to distance itself from the U.S. We should oblige by ending aid and moving on before "more damage is done.""Egypt and the United States: It's not you, it's me"

It's not over yet: This will indeed put U.S.-Egypt relations to the test, says Dina Ezzat at Egypt's Al-Ahram. But the U.S. has cut aid to Egypt before — typically over human rights questions — without prompting a total breakup. Egypt's new government just feels it is "defending its sovereignty." That doesn't necessarily mean these two nations have to go their separate ways. "Targeting of NGOs puts Egypt-U.S. relations to test"

It's time to patch things up: "Both sides have mishandled things," says Anne Penketh at The Hill. Egypt, led by its international cooperation minister, Faiza Abul Naga, "a holdover from the Mubarak era," has been irresponsible. But the U.S. overreacted by giving some of the NGO workers refuge in its embassy. Washington needs to "stand up for human rights," but "Egyptian national pride is at stake, so the United States should tread carefully." Both sides need to "walk back" from this fight and make up."U.S. and Egypt should walk back on NGO row"

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