Debate Club

The U.S. Needs to Walk the Walk on Egypt's Human Rights


U.S. law is very clear: American aid must be cut off to "any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d'etat" or a coup "supported by the military." There is no provision for an administration waiver. Given the tumultuous events of last week, what should the U.S. do? What can the U.S. do?

First of all, the administration needs to acknowledge the basic reality that what happened in Egypt was indeed a coup, no matter how justified by the repressive and incompetent misrule of ex-President Mohammed Morsi, and never mind the vast popular support the military found for its actions. The army stepped into the middle of the political controversy, issued an ultimatum to Morsi to "meet the demands of the people" within 48 hours, and then deposed and arrested him when he failed to so.

The military's "roadmap" dictates the next steps in the political process. That's a coup. The administration has so far refused to use the word, and the review of aid to Egypt announced by the president appears to be aimed more at justifying continued delivery of assistance than seriously exploring all options.

Instead, the administration should view the present crisis as an opportunity to rectify past mistakes and implement a new stance toward Egypt that better serves U.S. interests and the cause of Egyptian democracy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

The United States should hold off implementing the requirements of law just long enough to have an in depth discussion with Egypt's military leaders and key members of the interim government (assuming one is set up in the near future) to explain that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is now at a crossroads. Neither the administration nor the Congress, the U.S. should explain, is able or willing to sustain a major aid package (including $1.3 billion annually in military assistance) as long as Egypt remains on its present course and the heavy hand of the military pulls all the political levers.

The administration should tell Defense Minister Abdul Fattah al Sisi that he must set a clear timetable for a resumption of civilian rule and initiate a process to amend the constitution to make it more broadly representative of the will of Egypt's people while safeguarding human rights. The U.S. should couple the diplomatic approach with tough and open talk on the troubling human rights picture in the country, and publicly hold authorities accountable for violations.

Then the administration should suspend aid, in accordance with U.S. law, until free and fair elections for a new civilian-led government, with the participation of all Egypt's parties, have taken place.

This strategy will let the Egyptian people know that we are finally willing to walk the walk on human rights and democracy, thus helping to correct the impression among Egypt's non-Islamist opposition that the United States backed Morsi's rule to the hilt. It will show the Muslim Brotherhood that we do not approve of the military dominating the country's politics and driving them back into the shadows. And it will demonstrate to the military that there are limits to American patience, and that we are finally ready to use the leverage accumulated through more than 30 years and some $75 billion in U.S. assistance to help support a genuine transition to democracy. It's a strategy we haven't tried before, and our best option to change the rules of the game in democracy's favor.

Charles Dunne

About Charles Dunne Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at Freedom House

foreign aid

Other Arguments

14 Pts
If Egypt Chooses Military Rule, U.S. Aid Should Be Pulled

Yes – If Egypt Chooses Military Rule, U.S. Aid Should Be Pulled

Trey Radel Republican Representative from Florida

11 Pts
U.S. Aid Does a Disservice to the Egyptian People

Yes – U.S. Aid Does a Disservice to the Egyptian People

Dalibor Rohac Policy Analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute

7 Pts
There's No Dancing Around the Law on Aid to Egypt

Yes – There's No Dancing Around the Law on Aid to Egypt

Elizabeth H. Prodromou Affiliate Scholar at Harvard's Center for European Studies

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