Western Response to Egyptian Crisis is Ineffective

Yesterday the Egyptian military decided to implement its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood,  The result was a predictable round of bloodshed that killed nearly 500 people.  The underlying problem is that the two primary competing actors in Egyptian politics, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, are incapable of resolving conflicts through negotiation and compromise.  Both sides were intractable in this situation, and thus the military resorted to the time-honored dictator’s method of solving political problems: the use of force.  The irreconcilable power struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood dramatically undermines the development of democratic political institutions in Egypt.

The Western response to the Egyptian army’s use of force against the Muslim Brotherhood represents a poor policy choice.  President Obama’s goal in condemning the military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is to express his support for Western democratic principles.  And his cancellation of joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises is undoubtedly an attempt to distance himself from the Egyptian military.  But his policy may unintentionally convey the impression that he sympathizes with the forces of radical Islam.   He is aligning himself with the Islamist regimes in Iran, Turkey, and Tunisia and opposing the Arab dictators in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates who support the crackdown.

In addition, the U.S. and the West also failed to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood for bombing churches in response to the military’s crackdown.  Thus, the U.S. is only holding one side, the Egyptian military, responsible for its actions, while allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to get away with bombing churches.

A more effective policy response would be to condition a small portion of U.S. military aid to Egypt, such as 10-15%, upon the Egyptian military’s decision to exit from Egyptian political affairs within 6 months.  The Egyptian military needs to be held accountable in a concrete fashion for its continued interference in politics which has undermined the democratic process in Egypt.  Continued interference in the political process should carry an economic price for the Egyptian military.

But this decision must be implemented carefully to avoid endangering Egyptian military cooperation with Israel and the Jews.  The Egyptian military has cooperated with the Israelis in combatting radical Islamist terror in the Sinai Peninsula.  According to a Wall Street Journal article of August 14, 2013, titled “Israelis, Egyptians Cooperate on Terror,” Israel received rare permission from the Egyptian military for a drone strike inside the Sinai Peninsula which killed 4 radical Islamist members of an obscure group called Ansar Jerusalem.  Such permission clearly reflects a high degree of coordination between the Israeli and Egyptian militaries.

In addition, any condemnation of the Egyptian military’s human rights abuses against the Muslim Brotherhood must also be accompanied by a comparable criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood for burning churches and using force more generally in politics.  Like the military, the Muslim Brotherhood is an authoritarian political institution which must be held accountable by the West for its actions.  Thus, exempting the MB from criticism renders Western policy in Egypt as both hypocritical and ineffective.

Finally, the long-term solution for Egyptian politics is the development of democratic institutions and parties which are capable of solving Egypt’s economic crisis and of peacefully resolving political conflicts.  The West should invest in the creation of a vibrant Egyptian civil society which is truly responsive to the needs of the Egyptian people and not beholden to the restrictions of the military or the Muslim Brotherhood.  The West should support emerging human rights, media, and democratic opposition groups which are trying to build a more humane future for Egypt.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.