Dunne & Nawaz: US should not repeat Pakistan mistakes in Egypt

From a NYT op-ed by Michele Dunne and Shuja Nawaz:

A dismayed Congress has attached conditions to future military assistance to Egypt (now $1.3 billion a year), requiring the Obama administration to certify that the military government is maintaining peace with Israel, allowing a transition to civilian rule and protecting basic freedoms — or to waive the conditions on national security grounds — if it wants to keep aid flowing.

The Egyptian military is clearly not meeting at least two of those three conditions right now. Consequently, the Obama administration should not certify compliance, nor should it invoke the national security waiver by arguing that Egyptian-Israeli peace is paramount and that Egypt’s military is the only bulwark against Islamist domination of the country — because both of these arguments are deeply flawed.

First, hardly anyone in Egypt favors war with Israel, and a freeze or suspension of American aid would not change that. Second, continuing support to an Egyptian military that is bent on hobbling a liberal civil society would only strengthen Islamist domination. Islamist groups won some 70 percent of seats in the recent parliamentary elections, but they will now face tremendous pressure to solve the deep economic and political problems that caused the revolution.

In Egypt, as in Pakistan, the ultimate solution is a peaceful transfer of power to elected, accountable civilians and the removal of the military’s overt and covert influence from the political scene. At a minimum, Egypt should establish the clear supremacy of the civilian government over the military and allow an unfettered civil society to flourish.

Washington should suspend military assistance to Egypt until those conditions are met. Taking that difficult step now could help Egypt avoid decades of the violence, terrorism and cloak-and-dagger politics that continue to plague Pakistan.

An excellent argument I wholeheartedly agree with. Glad to see Dunne – one of the better Egypt experts and policy advocates in Washington – take this line. We chatted last February or so and I was saying the same thing but she thought it would be unwise to punish the generals when they had just refused to protect Mubarak. I'm glad she has come around. It's also important to see here, at least implied, an echo of the argument I have been making for a year for the decoupling of Camp David from the US-Egypt relationship. The idea that the US has been bribing Egypt to stop it from going to war with Israel has always been absurd – under Mubarak and today.

Carter on Camp David

Some interesting highlights from Abigail Hauslohner's TIME interview with Jimmy Carter, who is in Cairo at the moment:

Right, the ones who voted. Would you see that any differently if this newly elected government opts to abandon Camp David?
There is no chance of that in the world, in my opinion.

Why?
Because the peace treaty that I helped negotiate between Israel and Egypt is so precious and so beneficial to Egypt [that] to renounce it and to take a chance on going back to war with Israel — as they did four times in the 25 years before I became president — is almost inconceivable. And even the Muslim Brotherhood has made public statements in the past that they support the continuation of the treaty. There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights. This was a major part of the agreement that I worked out with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat 30-something years ago... peace between Israel and Egypt and protection of Palestinian rights. And even the Egyptian leaders in the past few years have not honored their commitment to protect Palestinian rights. And I think that will be one change made by the future civilian government.

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The US, Egypt, Israel and the revolution(s)

One of the big media memes of the toppling of Hosni Mubarak is what it means for Israel and US policy in the region (which for the last 20 years has largely been about Israel). Some see a huge change coming, with the idea being that the poor, vulnerable Jewish state will once again be at the mercy of bloodthirsty Arabs who, deprived of tough leadership, will revert to their irrational hatred of all things Semitic. 

Well, hold on to your horses. First of all, a lot of this meme is based on the idea that Israel is weak and helpless, which might justify insane amounts of money spent on it by US taxpayers but simply isn't true. Israel has probably one of the top five armies in the world, is perfectly capable to defend itself in the unlikely event of an Egyptian attack (because that worked out so well for the Egyptians before) and, rather scarily, has both a massive nuclear arsenal and a gnawing inferiority complex fed by guilt at having rather nasty policies towards its non-Jewish neighbors. Secondly, Egyptians have have other problems right now.

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