The recent forcible removal of the elected President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, by the Egyptian army on July 3rd has created a precarious situation for United States foreign policy in the region. The Egyptian military depends heavily on the $1.3 billion in US military aid it receives each year. That aid would be cut off if the army took control of the government in a military coup.
The Obama Administration has determined that it does not want the military aid to Egypt cut off at this time, so it has refused to label the actions taken to depose Morsi as a coup. They apparently fear that such an action would increase the political instability of Egypt even further. Anti-Morsi/Moslem Brotherhood protests helped to precipitate the crisis leading to the military action, and now Pro-Morsi forces are vehemently protesting the overthrow, with predictable casualties resulting from the military putting down the protests.
The semantic gymnastics involved in retaining the illusion that the military overthrow of a duly elected government is anything other than a coup are truly astounding and stand to lessen any credibility to US claims to support democracy and self-determination in Egypt. The nation suffered under a brutal dictatorship for decades under Hosni Mubarak and the elected government had been in place for only a year before the action was taken. Despite the fact that many in Egypt and here were concerned with the direction the Morsi government was taking on many issues, including the fear that it, too, was in danger of entrenching itself in a new authoritarian regime, there was no constitutional provision for the manner in which it was dismantled. Free elections were, after all, responsible for installing the government to begin with.
By tacitly supporting the actions taken by the Egyptian military, the US is playing a much larger role in the internal politics of that nation, and one which may or may not side with the interests of most of the people living there. While this is not the first time that we have approved of a military takeover in a country with a government with which we disagree (remember the coup that overthrew Allende in Chile, for example), it highlights American arrogance in its conduct of foreign policy in the region. Is it our place to determine the composition of the government in Egypt? Should we look the other way as the military uses our aid to control its own people rather than defend itself against foreign enemies? What kind of image of America is gained among the populace when they read “Made in USA” on tear gas canisters quelling protesters expressing their free speech rights?
The only ally this country has in the region with anything approaching a democratic government now is Israel. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two countries we most recently intervened in militarily, is far from promising, as is the case of the other countries which had despotic governments overthrown in the popular uprisings known as the “Arab Spring”. Many of the nations in the region purchase the bulk of their military equipment and armaments from the US. They also run authoritarian states where the people have few or none of the freedoms we pride ourselves on as a nation. In Egypt, however, our government seems content to continue to supply the instruments of repression free of charge. Congress is complicit in this as well, because it approves the funding.
Refusing to say one way or the other if the actions of the Egyptian military constitute a coup is a dodge intended to defeat the spirit but not the letter of the law governing the dispensation of US military aid to that country. To say that it is categorically not a coup is an act of rhetorical sophistry so transparent as to damage US credibility in the region, if not the world, for years to come. The Egyptian people must be allowed to determine their fate as a nation and the shape of their future government without undue outside influence. They have endured authoritarian rule for far too long. Allowing the government to revert once again to the same sort of repression as had been practiced by Mubarak for so long with a new face utterly dependent on the force of arms provided by us would be the moral equivalent of turning the country into our colony with a puppet government.
Looking the other way when other countries suppress their people in the region is likewise the height of hypocrisy. We openly seek to arm rebel forces in Syria while letting “our” tyrants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region to suppress any voices of dissent within their borders without comment. Might does not always make right. We must do our best to ensure we do not allow it to defeat it. Egypt’s military must not be allowed to continue to rule or to be used in the role it has played there since July 3rd in the future. A permanent return to civilian government, hopefully one which better meets the needs of all its citizens, needs to be established. How would we feel if OUR military took similar steps here in a not-unforeseeable future?
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