The Obama administration has a near impossible challenge charting Egypt’s high seas in the midst of this latest political tempest. It would do well to proceed with quiet humility — and navigate for the only safe harbor in the relationship between Cairo and Washington: the Egyptian armed forces.
The Egyptian military is now the key actor in Cairo — the one actor that the United States can still influence. The U.S. military has strong ties, developed over decades of close cooperation, with its Egyptian counterparts. The Egyptian officers are heavily dependent on U.S. military assistance for their all-American equipped forces. We should be communicating to them through private, not public, military channels that they need to put quickly in place a credible transition to civilian, democratic rule because, without that, U.S. law dictates a cut-off of American aid to coup-makers. Some American politicians are already calling for that spigot of money to be shut off after Wednesday’s removal of the Morsy government. But actually cutting off the aid now would be highly counterproductive, turning the United States into the adversary of the very actors we now depend upon to return Egypt to a democratic path.
It’s worth remembering that the ongoing revolution in Egypt is not about the United States — as Obama administration spokesmen aver — but Washington does have vital interests that need to be protected and promoted. Egypt is the largest, militarily most-powerful, culturally most-influential, and geostrategically most-important country in the Arab world. Its peace treaty with Israel is the cornerstone of America’s five-decade long effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and build a pro-Western coalition of moderate partners in a region in turmoil. And its democratic revolution still holds the potential for shifting the Arab world decisively in the direction of liberty, accountable government, and promotion of universal human rights.