The crash on Sunday of an Egyptian Air Force fighter should be a reminder that Egypt still needs our military aid despite the Obama administration’s decision to withhold a substantial amount of it following the ouster of President Morsi in June. The aircraft that went down was a Soviet made MIG-21, which emphasizes the fact that approximately 48 percent of the Egyptian military’s equipment is still from the Soviet era.
Besides denying Egypt an expected six new F-16’s, the administration is holding back on ten Apache helicopters scheduled for delivery last month, among other items. These helicopters would augment others being deployed to maintain security along the vital Suez Canal and to conduct security and offensive operations against the Islamists who moved into Sinai in numbers once Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood took control of Egypt last year. These same Islamists have wreaked havoc in the Sinai and provided a gateway for weapons being smuggled into Hamas in Gaza to be used against Israel. No wonder Israel has quickly stood up and called on the U.S. to not deny the aid. They recognize that it’s as essential to their own security as it is to Egypt’s.
On a trip two weeks ago to Egypt with the Lexington Institute, a McLean based think tank, we were introduced to a number of Egyptians ranging from students who fomented the demonstrations which ousted Mubarak and later Morsi, to key business leaders, to the Pope of the Coptic Church, to the man leading the group of 50 tasked with rewriting the constitution, to the generals now overseeing the defense and security of the nation. The spectrum was broad enough to come back with a reasonable sense of what’s going on. Not surprisingly, what we saw and learned is at odds with what the mainstream media and the administration itself are portraying directly or indirectly — that democracy was ‘stolen’.
In withholding some of the vital military aid, the administration wants to pressure the regime to return to democracy. Consider this — 13.2 million Egyptians voted for Morsi. With less than a year in office and no impeachment process written into the new post-Mubarak constitution, 22 million Egyptians signed petitions for his removal. He refused, at the same time refusing calls for a referendum on his staying in power. As pro- and anti-Morsi followers began a series of violent confrontations, 33 million Egyptians went to the streets on June 30th calling for his ouster. The military and police stood back, but when pro-Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist demonstrators came with guns and other weapons, violence quickly broke out and security forces stepped in. “We were on the verge of civil war”, is how one general characterized it. “We had no choice.” Interestingly, that was the exact description given by the student leaders.
Somehow either ignoring or oblivious to these numbers, the Administration still coddles Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, with the State Department pressuring the regime to restore democracy as soon as possible. In fact, the generals are not in power, having handed it over almost immediately to an interim president after Morsi’s arrest.
A new constitution is being drafted and elections will be held as soon as the people vote on and approve it. To date the Muslim Brotherhood has rejected invitations to participate in the drafting of the new constitution, empowered in part by the Obama Administration’s overtures to ‘restore democracy’ — meaning a return to the results of last year’s elections.
Some analysts and even some Egyptians believe the administration coddles the Brotherhood in the belief they are moderate and will help the West develop a reasonable relationship with the radicals. In fact, Egyptians got a first hand look at what the Brotherhood is and what it stands for. The student leaders we met with, the same ones who took to the streets to oust Mubarak, told us they had a “sense of hope” with Morsi.
Yet, a key business leader also told us, “Egyptians have just woke up from a terrible nightmare.” And the nightmare isn’t over. Extremist violence continues in Egypt and likely won’t stop as long as the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters can look towards this administration with a glimmer of hope that they will be restored to power. Denying military aid fosters that hope.
I’ve visited the Middle East, mostly Iraq, almost every month for the past two years. My Muslim friends from throughout the region are under no illusions about who the Muslim Brotherhood is and the threat they pose to that region and ultimately us. Neither are the 40 million Egyptians who went to the streets of Egypt on July 26th to voice their support for the generals who ousted Morsi. It would be refreshing for the Obama Administration to consider these demonstrations a reflection of democracy and restore full military aid to Egypt. It’s not only in Egypt’s best interest. It’s in ours and Israel’s as well.