Clock's ticking down on Egypt


The situation in Egypt is well on its way to becoming a no-win situation for the United States as its political upheaval turns increasingly violent.

At risk for Egypt is civil war.

For America, the risk is weighing principles against the events that are taking place, along with the United States’ position of influence in the Middle East.

Also in play is more than $1.5 billion a year in military and economic aid to the East African nation and its capital.

On Tuesday, word swirled around Washington that the White House had decided to cut off financial aid to Egypt, something we require ourselves to do when a democratically elected government is dislodged by coups. So far, the U.S. has dodged the issue of financial aid simply by not classifying the ousting as what it was while federal officials “study” it.

What the White House is doing, essentially, is playing for time while it tries to figure out who will emerge in charge of Egypt in the end. It has been a critical partner for the United States for decades and, frankly, the U.S. can ill afford to be at odds with the nation’s eventual leadership.

President Barack Obama was to meet with his national security advisers Tuesday to review the situation, along with U.S. aid to Egypt, which has reached $1.3 billion in military assistance a year, along with $250 million in economic aid for Cairo.

After the Hosni Mubarik regime was unseated in 2011 in the so-called Arab Spring, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president. As Mursi filled his government with Islamic extremists and failed to pay attention to basic shortages, including electricity and food, the Egyptian public became angry. Another protest developed that gained the support of the Egyptian military. Mursi was removed from power by the military last month and the generals pledged to begin working toward a new civilian government. As Mursi’s supporters have demanded that he be returned to power, the suppression of those rallies has gotten bloodier. On Tuesday, the White House said the the Egyptian detention of Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, was not in line with what the United States hoped to see in respect for basic human rights.

The United States is in a political pickle of sorts. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership that was toppled was hardly friendly to the U.S., but it was elected democratically. Its unceremonious removal from power might be in our best interests, but it also violates the principles of government that we espouse.

So far, the White House has managed to buy some time as it tried to determine the best course of action that would avoid another situation like the one in Syria. But the clock is ticking and with every violent altercation, the hands are moving closer to midnight.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board