Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the confrontation in Egypt have so far failed. The refusal of coup leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, now the defense minister, to go along with diplomatic de-escalation, and the excessive force used by security agencies signal that they do not aim at repressing only the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian army is trying to frighten the general population and restore autocratic rule to an Egypt that has tasted freedom and expressed itself repeatedly at the ballot box since 2011.
The US and Europe want to get Egypt back on a more orderly democratic path. This entails restraining the Egyptian security forces, maintaining relative openness, and moving towards an inclusive polity with Islamist, and, if possible, Muslim Brotherhood, participation. It also means restoring a modicum of order and stability so that ordinary Egyptians can go about their business without fear of violence or intimidation.
The security forces are continuing their violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is pledging to continue its protests against the July 3 military takeover. Some Islamists are resisting with arms. About 1,000 people have been killed. What can the United States and the international community do to mitigate the situation?
The civilian government the Egyptian army installed after the coup has pledged an amended constitution by the end of the year, to be approved in a referendum and elections early next year. This is a fast timeline. What can the international community do to try to ensure it is met?
The United States has already postponed delivery of F16s to Egypt and canceled joint military exercises scheduled for the fall to protest General Sisi’s crackdown. Inevitably the question of America’s $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt will now arise in Washington. It would make sense to refocus the civilian assistance of about $250 million tightly on democratic objectives. Those most concerned with getting Egypt back on a democratic path are recommending suspension of the military portion ($1.2 billion).
This will be opposed by those more concerned with security issues, including maintenance of the peace treaty with Israel. A proposal in the US Senate to redirect all Egyptian aid to domestic American priorities was defeated last month by a wide margin (86-13), but that was before the worst of the crackdown. The margin would likely be much closer next month.
Even if the US Congress or the Administration acts to suspend military aid to Egypt, the financial impact will not be immediate. This year’s tranche has already been transferred. It will be the better part of another year before money can be blocked. More weapons scheduled for delivery can be delayed, but American industry will spend the year lobbying hard against a funding cut-off, as much of the money is actually spent on US contractors who supply the Egyptian military with materiel and services.
Europe provides much more assistance to Egypt than the United States. Its 5 billion euro (more than $6 billion) mainly economic package is now under review. This was intended to support the transition to democracy, which is now in doubt. Europeans concerned with their own economic problems may well see suspension of aid to Egypt as an opportunity.
The international financial institutions are another important part of the picture. Egypt has been negotiating for many months a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The US and Europe can block or delay that loan.
But both Europe and the United States need to consider the broader international context in deciding what to do about bilateral and IMF assistance. They are not the only players on the world stage. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have already pledged $12 billion, dwarfing both the American and European assistance packages. Russia will likely try to take advantage of any opening and provide military aid if the Americans suspend theirs.
Egypt clearly has alternatives to Western assistance, even if the Gulf states are notoriously slow and unreliable, and the Russians significantly less attractive to a military that has been getting advanced American weapons. If they want to see a democratic outcome in Egypt, the Americans and Europeans will need to convince the Gulf states—no paragons of democracy—to back the timeline for a return to democratic governance.
Widening the aperture farther, the Arab and Muslim worlds are watching what the international community does about Egypt. Will it insist on a return to a democratic path and an inclusive polity that allows Islamist participation on the timeline that Egypt itself has defined? Or will it settle for delay or a security solution that allows the army to remain the arbiter of Egypt’s fate? A lot depends on the skillful use of diplomatic and assistance leverage in a context where there are many players with diverse and even conflicting objectives.
Slowest Washington week for war and peace events in a long time:
1. Al Qaeda and its Affiliates: On Life Support or an Imminent Threat?
A Conversation with Eli Lake, Thomas Joscelyn and Cliff May
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Registration and lunch will begin at 11:45 am
Twelve years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and more than two years after Osama bin Laden was killed, how great of a threat is al Qaeda to the U.S. homeland and America’s interests abroad? Has the instability in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and throughout Africa allowed al Qaeda to grow in size and power? How should the latest threats against America’s diplomatic facilities, paired with the recent prison breaks in Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere impact U.S. counterterrorism strategy?
Please join FDD for a conversation with Eli Lake, Thomas Joscelyn, and Cliff May.
Eli Lake is the senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He previously covered national security and intelligence for The Washington Times. Eli has also been a contributing editor at The New Republic since 2008 and covered diplomacy, intelligence, and the military for the late New York Sun. He has lived in Cairo and traveled to war zones in Sudan, Iraq, and Gaza. He is one of the few journalists to report from all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the Senior Editor of The Long War Journal. Most of Thomas’s research and writing focuses on how al Qaeda and its affiliates operate around the world. He is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard and his work has been published by a variety of other publications.
Clifford D. May is President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has had a long and distinguished career in international relations, journalism, communications and politics. Cliff spent nearly a decade with The New York Times as a reporter in both New York and Washington, an editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine and as a foreign correspondent. He is a frequent guest on national and international television and radio news programs including CNN and MSNBC, providing analysis and participating in debates on national security issues. He writes a weekly column that is nationally distributed by Scripps Howard News Service and is a regular contributor to National Review Online, The American Spectator and other publications.
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Open press coverage. Advance RSVP required.
Camera setup at 11:00 am
1726 M Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
- See more at: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/events/al-qaeda-and-its-affiliates-on-life-support-or-an-imminent-threat/#sthash.BDqNrXD8.dpuf
2. The Coming Asian Arms Race?
Date / Time
Thursday, August 22, 2013 / 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Ely Ratner, Randall Schriver, Barry Pavel
A discussion with:
Dr. Ely Ratner
Deputy Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program
Center for a New American Security
Mr. Randall Schriver
President and Chief Executive Officer
Project 2049 Institute
Mr. Barry Pavel
Vice President and Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security
Please join the Brent Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council for a panel discussion on the recent uptick in defense spending in the Asia-Pacific region, what it means for US strategy, and what it portends for the future of regional rivalries.
Last year, Defense News published a special report showing that the locus of military spending in the world is shifting to Asia as when European defense budgets are decreasing. According to an IHS Jane’s study, defense spending in the Asia-Pacific will overtake North American defense budgets by 2021. In addition, three of the world’s top five arms importers are in Asia: China (#1), South Korea (#3), and Singapore (#5). In addition, once dormant military powers, like Japan, are remilitarizing, prompting a changing geopolitical landscape that could lead to rising tensions between China and Taiwan, both Koreas, and other regional rivals. These changes in Asian defense have important implications for the United States as its posture looks east during the so-called “pivot” or “rebalance.” To discuss these strategically vital developments, the Atlantic Council has invited prominent scholars and practitioners in this field to discuss what increasing Asian defense budgets mean for the United States, the region, and the world.
Dr. Ely Ratner is the deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He recently served in the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the State Department as the lead political officer covering China’s external relations in Asia. He was an international affairs fellow sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. His portfolio included China’s activities in and relations with North Korea, Japan, Burma, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Mr. Randall Schriver is the president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute. He is also a founding partner of Armitage International LLC, based in Arlington, Virginia, and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, DC. He served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2003 to 2005, and as chief of staff and senior policy advisor to then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, from 2001 to 2003.
The moderator for this event, Mr. Barry Pavel, is a vice president of the Atlantic Council and the director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Prior to joining the Atlantic Council, he was a career member of the Senior Executive Service in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy for almost eighteen years. From October 2008 through July 2010, he served as the special assistant to the president and senior director for defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council (NSC) staff, serving both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
This event is part of the Asia Security Initiative’s Cross-Straits series, which examines strategic and current affairs surrounding cross-straits relations.
Motives can be hard to discern, especially if those who hold them say little. So far, the Egyptian army has not said much. It merely claims its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is intended to fight threats to the nation, in particular terrorism.
But most of the violence against security forces came after the crackdown, not before. And there is no evidence that brutality of this sort will stem a terrorist movement or insurgency. To the contrary, few insurgencies yield to force. Most yield to law enforcement or negotiation.
We can try to infer the Army’s objectives from its behavior. The largely indiscriminate violence by the security forces suggests that the intention is not merely to disperse particular demonstrations but rather to intimidate. The target is not only the Muslim Brotherhood but the entire Egyptian population. The army is trying to reestablish the autocracy that fell in February 2011, with new leadership. That requires frightening all the citizens, not just the Muslim Brotherhood.
But it also requires chasing the Brotherhood out of the political game. Even under Hosni Mubarak, there were elections. Under strong international pressure, the army will have to hold elections sometime next year, if not earlier. What it cannot afford is for the Brotherhood to participate and gain a significant slice of the electorate, maybe even a plurality.
This may seem unlikely given the popular demonstrations against President Morsi, but it is entirely possible. The non-Islamists in Egypt seem hopelessly divided. The longer the army postpones elections, the more likely it is Egyptians will be disappointed with its rule, which has no real prospect of solving the economic and social ills that sent Egyptians into the street calling for Morsi to step down. The Brotherhood has a loyal and organized core following. A free and fair electoral contest in a year’s time might well have unpleasant surprises for General Sissi.
The way to avoid this is to make sure the Brotherhood goes underground and is unable or unwilling to participate in the electoral process. It won’t be surprising if the army declares the Brotherhood illegal, but it may not have to do so. Morsi and his minions are likely to say they won’t participate because the process is illegitimate. But there are less militant Brothers and supporters. The tougher the crackdown, the less likely a Brotherhood electoral effort in any guise will emerge. The Egyptian army knows Turkish history well: the Islamists returned repeatedly after military interventions, gained control of the state and are now taking revenge on some of their military antagonists.
Leaving aside the fate of the Brotherhood, can autocracy be reimposed?
The odds are pretty good. The more moderate Islamists and secular liberals in Egypt were never very good at getting votes. They will be glad to see the Brotherhood out of the competition. The Salafists are in a more difficult spot, but their all too apparent sympathies with the Brotherhood demonstrators have not yet made them split definitively from at least nominal acceptance of the military coup. Offered an opportunity to compete at the polls without the Brotherhood in play, the Salafists may well play along. Few non-Brotherhood Egyptians of any stripe are going to stand up for the Brotherhood, especially if it continues to resist the crackdown with ineffective violence of its own.
Of course the new autocracy won’t be the same as Mubarak’s. It is likely to allow greater freedom of the press, a safety valve that many autocracies find useful. It would be smart to allow broader distribution of the economic goodies than Mubarak did, building a real constituency of its own in the business community. It might well get smart about providing for the poorest of the poor, who don’t get much out of Egypt’s subsidies to middle class commodities like gasoline that they don’t use.
But autocracy it will still be, with clear limits on political organizing, protection for the army’s privileges and status, and a truncated ideological spectrum that tries to consign any but the most moderate Islamism to the margins. It will not be democratic in any absolute sense, but it may be a bit more open than the old autocracy. The question now is how many people the army will have to kill to make it happen.
My friends at the New York Times are repeating their call to cut off military aid to Egypt in response to yesterday’s “madness” (and proposing cancellation of military exercises as well). Until now I’ve opposed cutting off aid, but the time has come. Washington should suspend both military exercises and aid, while sustaining civilian assistance, pending return to civilian rule. Doing anything less will signal approval of a murderous and unjustified attack by the Egyptian security forces as well as the military’s continuing hold on power.
I hasten to add that it won’t do much good. As Eric Trager has noted (unfortunately behind the Wall Street Journal paywall, so don’t expect a link), the Egyptian army regarded the Muslim Brotherhood challenge to the military coup as an existential one. Our $1.3 billion just does not outweigh an existential challenge. General Sissi has surely calculated that he would lose this money if he cracked down. He went ahead anyway. No one should expect him to have any regrets. He is far more likely to denounce the US for hypocrisy for not supporting his war on terror and to look for additional support from the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Gulf states that have already ponied up pledges of well over $10 billion. Read more…
The big issue on everyone’s mind today is the crackdown in Egypt. Here is how I’ve answered a few of the press’s good questions:
Q: What’s your take on the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood? What might result from this confrontation?
A: The unnecessary and ill-advised crackdown will make it far more difficult for Egypt to heal the rift between Islamists and secularists and move towards an inclusive and democratic government. The military will now be quite clearly in charge, as the resignation of El Baradei confirms. Washington will have to decide whether to suspend assistance. It will be difficult not to do so, though suspension is unlikely to make things better.
Q: What might be the international implication of the crisis – for other Arab countries prospects of democracy there?
News from the Arab uprisings this morning is particularly grim:
- In Egypt, the police and army are attacking pro-Morsi demonstrators, causing what appear to be well over 100 deaths;
- In an unconfirmed report, Italian Catholic priest and opposition enthusiast Paolo Dall’Oglio is said to have been killed by opposition Islamists in Syria;
- The American mission in Yemen remains closed as the US continues its heightened drone war against militants.
Add to these items the Islamist government in Tunisia finding itself unable to protect non-Islamist politicians from assassination and Libya’s continuing difficulty in gaining control over revolutionary militias and you’ve got a pretty ugly picture.
I don’t want to minimize any of this. It is all real and problematic. But it is not catastrophic. Revolutions have their bad moments (and days, months and years). Some of them end badly. There is no guarantee that won’t be the case in the Middle East, with some or all of the uprisings.
Egypt is in the most peril. It has not found a steady course but lurches between extremes: either military-backed secularists or Muslim Brotherhood/Salafist dominance. Co-habitation of the two has proven unworkable. It is hard to picture how today’s crackdown can put things right. The Islamists will find it harder to compromise. Secularists and minorities will fear even more a return of the Brotherhood to power. Read more…