Egyptians just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their revolution last January, but you wouldn't know it from the actions of their military. Indeed, the Egyptian military is operating business as usual, using repressive tactics to maintain an autocratic grip on power. The military has been accused by Egyptian revolutionaries of cracking down on subsequent protests, particularly last fall, when the military violently suppressed demonstrations resulting in at least 100 deaths and wounding thousands more. This extreme response to protests and demonstrations has earned the Egyptian military a reputation of opposing a real transition of power to a new democratically elected government.
Unfortunately, lack of democracy in Egypt is nothing new. What is new is that, for the first time in decades, the military's undemocratic tactics are making the U.S. government consider withdrawing American military aid to Egypt. This current debate follows the Egyptian military's recent decision to detain 19 Americans, including Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood's son, as part of 43 total employees of democracy promoting non-governmental organizations accused of using foreign funds to incite violence during the Egyptian demonstrations. Despite the blatant falseness of these accusations, military officials announced Sunday that the several members of the group would face criminal prosecution.
It's hard to understand why the Egyptian military, tasked with ushering the post-revolutionary nation into a new democratic future, would be punishing outsiders for trying to help them with this mission. Suggested explanations are that the military is trying to gain critical Arab Street cred, shaking former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's long-standing image as the U.S.'s puppet. A more cynical, and likely just as true, explanation is that the military wants to delay true transition to democracy, which would likely see their role in government greatly diminished.
Whatever its reasons, the Egyptian military is playing a dangerous game with one of their largest funders. Egypt is the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $1.3 billion per year. Some columnists and analysts have insinuated that Egypt is essentially playing a game of chicken with the U.S. - pushing their luck under the assumption that the importance of Egyptian peace with Israel would prevent the U.S. from actually withdrawing aid to Egypt. But dozens of public figures, from Administration officials and Senators to foreign policy experts and even presidential candidates, are calling for President Obama and the State Department to call Egypt on its bluff and actually withhold aid.
There is absolutely no doubt that the U.S. should not fund autocratic officials who are only pretending to work towards democracy. But there is a fine line between withdrawing aid for the generals trying to bully Americans and other international aid workers and withdrawing our support for the struggle for democracy in Egypt overall. Literally millions of Egyptians came out in force to demand basic human rights and freedoms, successfully throwing out their dictator of a president and establishing a process for governmental reform. They deserve true democracy and we can't turn our backs on their efforts.
The Egyptian military is instigating the international community under the assumption that they are immune to retribution, and the U.S. needs to push back, standing up for democracy in Egypt. But rather than diverting funds elsewhere, we should be focusing on how our aid can best protect the incredible movement the Egyptians launched a year ago. The Egyptian people inspired the world with their courage and optimism. We shouldn't let anyone, whether it be the Egyptian military or anti-interventionists in the American government, crush that stirring spirit.