Over a year after his downfall, the deposed Egyptian president has yet to be convicted of any crimes. Sadly, it is clear today that celebrations of Hosni Mubarak’s downfall were premature. The revolution’s hard-won freedoms have been steadily pushed back by the ruling military regime. Thousands remain in military prisons with their civil rights suspended while there are protests daily around the country. The protests in Egypt were part of a historic moment in Arab history which demonstrated that individual citizens will organize together to fight for their freedom.
Yet Egypt’s 81 million people are still living under a dictatorship. With a quarter of the Arab league’s population, Egypt is the most important ‘Arab Spring’ country to date. In the Middle Eastern context, Egypt is too important to ignore and so long as the military remains in charge, Egypt will be unstable.
Egypt has taken the first step towards democracy by electing a new parliament. With Egyptian presidential elections just around the corner, the United States must do whatever it can to help the Egyptian people get the freedom for which they have fought and died. The first step is cutting military aid to Egypt.
The United States has a very strong interest in the outcome of Egypt’s revolution.
First, it is in this country’s nature to help freedom and democracy prevail everywhere. A democratic Egypt would go a long way to helping plant the seed of democracy in Middle East.
Second, America has spent over $60 billion in aid to Egypt since 1985. U.S. officials consistently justified this aid as necessary for continuing high level security cooperation, especially counter-terrorism efforts. Today, the U.S. stands at risk of losing this investment. Over two-thirds of the aid money has gone to military aid, creating a situation in which the Egyptian military is dependent on the U.S. military for equipment, training and even funding.
As a result, the U.S. is uniquely placed to influence the Egyptian military. What happens in the next few months, even years, will be essential to determining the revolution’s outcome. The United States must be actively engaged in the country’s transition to a democracy. When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt (SCAF) took the reins of power in February 2011, they promised to hand over executive authority to an elected president by July 2011. Today, the SCAF is still in power, vowing to relinquish presidential authority by July 2012.
There is little reason to trust the SCAF’s promises. Since assuming power last February, the military’s behavior has indicated that it intends to remain the dominant institution in Egypt’s political structure far beyond the current transition period.
In March 2011, there was a constitutional referendum in which voters were presented with a simple yes or no choice. Voting “yes” meant keeping the current constitution while adding or amending nine articles. Voting “no” meant deleting the old constitution and forming a committee to draft a new one. Seventy-seven percent of the country voted “yes.” The military ignored the result and issued its own ‘constitutional declaration,’ essentially writing the rules with which it has governed the country.
In early April, the Egyptian military cleared Tahrir Square with no warning, killing and beating demonstrators in the process. In July, the protesters returned to occupy Tahrir again, and the army cleared them out again in August. The process repeated itself again in September and November. Each time, the immediate reasons for each protest varied, as did the death toll.
One thing, however, has changed.
In Mubarak’s days, only the riot police fought the protesters. Today, they are backed up by the military. Furthermore, the military killed Coptic Christian demonstrators in October and oversaw the massacre of soccer fans in a stadium last January.
In January 2012, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Egypt to observe the third round of elections, which had been monitored by a number of well-known Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Speaking on behalf of the NGOs, Carter hailed the elections as evidence of the huge strides Egypt was taking towards democracy. However, he warned that the military intended to remain the most powerful institution in Egypt despite the newly elected parliament.
After he left, the Egyptian government indicted 44 members of various NGOs, accusing them of interfering in Egypt’s sovereign affairs. Of these 44, 16 were American. These Americans have been released under intense U.S. pressure, but some U.S. congressmen have expressed their anger at the whole affair. Some have even called for cutting off all of Egypt’s aid.
That would be unwise. It is true that currently the Egyptian military is the biggest obstacle to democratization. However, Egypt’s government is about to run out of money and has already asked the IMF and World Bank for help. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has just requested from Congress $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt, the same as last year.
Instead of cutting the aid altogether, as some have proposed, the U.S. should instead offer Egypt economic aid in place of the proposed military aid. If the newly elected Egyptian parliament accepts this money, then the United States will win the support of the Egyptian people. If the money is rejected, then the U.S. will have achieved two goals at once: cutting a billion dollars from the deficit while weakening Egypt’s military rulers.
As humble college students, what can we do to help the Egyptian revolution? We are in Massachusetts and one of our two representatives in the Senate, John Kerry, is the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving him a big say in the way America handles its relations with Egypt.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, write Kerry a letter telling him that you don’t want to give the Egyptian military any money. Tell Kerry to give Egypt the financial aid that is needed to avert economic disaster. If the SCAF refuses this aid, then the Egyptian public will blame them for the ensuing economic turmoil. If the elected parliament accepts this aid, then America will have taken the first step to winning the goodwill of the Egyptian people. Above all, tell Kerry that you do not want your tax money to be spent on sustaining a military dictatorship. Tell Kerry that America supports freedom.
Alaa El-Shafei is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.