How the U.S. Helped Fund the Egyptian Coup
Policy + Politics

How the U.S. Helped Fund the Egyptian Coup

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

As of late Saturday night, it was widely reported that Mohammed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief, had been appointed prime minister by interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour. The appointment was thought to be an attempt to ease anxieties over the future of Egypt following a military coup last week, as ElBaradei is a well-known and trusted figure on the international stage.

But by Sunday morning, this calm had disappeared. ElBaradei was expected to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, but canceled at the last minute. Host David Gregory said ElBaradei told him that he had not been named prime minister. He then likened the military coup that unseated Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi late last week to an impeachment process, while adding that he expected to be named prime minister sometime Sunday.

But ElBaradei’s final words to Gregory were the most troubling. When pressed about the current state of the country, ElBaradei said (according to Gregory), “The country is falling apart.”

Evidence of ElBaradei’s statement could be seen around Egypt Sunday. As a new government was forming, violent clashes between Morsi supporters and the military continued Sunday. It’s still not clear how much power the military still has, and whether it’s willing to give this power up.

It also shows the fragility of the Egyptian democratic experiment that’s unfolded in the last year. Morsi was democratically elected, but was ousted because of his association with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has pulled the country in a religious fundamentalist direction, and his refusal to address pressing economic concerns within the country.

The role of the military in the coup is also troubling. How can a democracy work if the military removes a leader every time popular opinion of leadership shifts?

“Had the president responded to the people we would have been able to find different ways to do this,” Former Egyptian ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy said in defense of the coup on “Meet the Press.” “This is not about what the military did. We are looking for a democratic process that’s inclusive, that’s transparent, that’s accountable.”

The military coup also highlights America’s complicated relationship with Egypt. The United States has provided more than $80 billion in aid to the country since 1982. It also has economic and national security interests in the region. Yet to date, the White House has refused to call it a coup, which would prevent the U.S. from delivering aid to Egypt, and has not said whether it will back the new government.

Egypt provides access to the Suez Canal, making its role in the global economy crucial. If the canal were to be closed, international trade would grind to a halt.

America also has security interest in the area. Egypt and Israel have long been rivals and there are fears that unrest in Egypt could lead to unrest in Palestine. The United States has used economic leverage over Egypt to keep the peace.

Lastly, the United States wants moderate Egyptian government that includes all parties. As Morsi’s time in office demonstrated, the Muslim Brotherhood wants to move Egypt far to the Islamic right. Any such government would likely be unwilling to continue friendly relations with Washington.

All of this makes the Obama administration’s reaction to the coup so puzzling. Ambassador Anne Patterson has made comments sympathetic to Morsi, angering demonstrators. Meanwhile, aligning with Obama, the State Department has countered that the United States has not taken a position on the coup.

Yet it’s clear that the money the United States has used to gain leverage over Egypt played a role in Morsi’s ouster. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak received $83.7 billion throughout his reign. Washington has also provided $1.5 billion to Morsi since he took office. Much of this funding was used to build up Egypt’s military, which has now removed a democratically elected president.

“This country doesn’t have a history of democracy. We were trying to nurture a path to …an Egypt for all,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief Robert Menendez (NJ) said Sunday. “We have to make sure the military gets a very clear message that we want to see a transition to a civilian government as quickly as possible.” 

According to Sen. John McCain (D-NJ), the military’s role in the coup should prompt the White House to cut aid immediately.

“It was a coup and it was the second time in two and a half years that we have seen the military step in," McCain said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday morning. "Reluctantly I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election."

He added, “Morsi was a terrible president, their economy is in terrible shape thanks to their policies, but the fact is the United States should not be supporting this coup.”

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