Law and order and the economy in Egypt continue to deteriorate under military rule, making continued U.S. support of the Cairo government installed in the June coup d’etat increasingly precarious.
Hopes for democracy in Egypt prompted by the events of the 2011 Arab Spring, including the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, have rapidly diminished. Popular elections were held in 2012 and Mohammed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, won and was installed as president. What was considered by some Egyptians to be overly rapid movement by Morsi to move the country to a more Islamic posture, brought demonstrations against him.
The Egyptian military, which had been in power since 1952, having given itself important economic franchises as well, felt threatened by Morsi’s policies. Using the street demonstrations against him as justification, the military overthrew him in a coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in June.
Under U.S. law, the coup should have led to a cessation of American aid to Egypt, which totals about $2 billion a year and is mostly military in nature. Much of the $2 billion is used to reimburse U.S. defense contractors for production and training that is part of the military aid. As a result, and also because of the strategic role that Egypt has played for years in the U.S. posture in the Middle East region, including in the protection of Israel, President Barack Obama did not cut off aid to the regime installed by the coup.
For show or for real, Egypt’s military leaders have laid out a schedule for a theoretical return to democratic rule that includes a new constitution and presidential elections. It is not clear at this point which order they envisage for the writing of the constitution and the holding of elections — or if Gen. al-Sisi intends to be a candidate and attempt to preserve military rule by that means.
What is clear is that the Egyptian military does not intend to relinquish power, that the military coup was just that and that Egyptians have seen the last of democracy for now, at least until they can wrest it once more from military hands. The question is how long that will take.
For the United States, the need to separate itself from Egypt’s generals by cutting off the remaining aid is clear. Otherwise, U.S.-Egyptian relations will go down when the generals’ ship does.