U.S. cannot stop aiding Egypt during crackdown

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Violent military crackdowns against protesters in Egypt last week called into question the continuation of U.S. military aid to the country. The protesters, rallied by the Muslim Brotherhood, support recently ousted president Mohamed Morsi. According to Amnesty International, over 1,000 people have been killed in these crackdowns.

The U.S. supplies $1.5 billion in military aid to Egypt annually. Given the recent atrocities, critics are calling for that aid to be immediately suspended. However, the situation in Egypt is both extremely complex and deeply delicate, and the military aid is not as simple as it seems.

The U.S. is not simply handing Egypt money; Egypt is part of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. More than 70 countries are part of this program, including Israel, Pakistan, and Colombia. Countries involved in the FMF are given certain funds that can only be used to purchase military equipment, and only from American contractors, according to Bloomberg Business Week. Egypt does have a remarkable amount of freedom within this system, but it is not the only one; Israel enjoys a similar liberty. Once Egypt orders a shipment of military equipment, U.S. contractors build it and send it. However, the U.S. can block or suspend shipments. While the U.S. has not officially cut aid, they have suspended the delivery of Egypt’s military orders indefinitely. By delaying the delivery of military equipment, the U.S. can protest the actions of the Egyptian military, without losing the leverage in the Middle East that aid provides.

Admittedly, that leverage is tenuous at best. Other nations, including Saudi Arabia, have indicated that they would supply military aid if the U.S. suspended it, according to CNN. But the current agreement with Egypt is long standing and dates back to the Camp David Accords, peace talks between Israel and Egypt that the U.S. hosted in 1978. This historical precedent does not mean that the U.S. has to aid Egypt, but it means that the situation in the Middle East has a foundation in established policies. U.S. condemnation of the recent actions of the Egyptian military would impact relationships between Middle Eastern nations in unpredictable ways. The U.S. also receives privileged access through military aid to the Suez Canal, which is both economically important and key for maintaining a foothold in the Middle East.

The Egyptian military’s violent behavior is unconscionable, and if the issue of aid were only a question of morality, then the United States should withdraw that support. However, the issue is more complex, and involves the stability of an entire region. The U.S. chose to involve itself in an extremely complex situation, and that commitment cannot be reversed easily. Withdrawing support from Egypt would most certainly lead to more violence and further chaos, but ostensibly maintaining that support while undercutting it in subtle ways has the potential to curtail the Egyptian military without destabilizing the Middle East.