Chaos in Egypt creates tricky situation for US

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Morsy, al-Sisi, and Hagel
This photo, taken on April 24, 2013, shows then President Mohamed Morsi (right), listening to the visiting US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (center), during a meeting that included General al-Sisi (left). Al-sisi was chosen by Morsi as the first Defense Minister following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. Several months after this photo, it was al-Sisi who formally removed Morsi from power.

When Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was removed on July 3 by the military, the White House didn’t call it a coup (a forceful removal of power from a government). If they had, then according to the US would have been forced to stop sending its yearly $1.3 billion in military aid to a country that has been its strongest Arab ally in the Middle East. It’s been a tricky situation for the US, balancing its relationship with Egypt.

However, this week, the military-led interim (temporary) government attacked supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi. Hundreds of these Muslim Brotherhood protestors carried pictures of the former president and torched two government buildings in Giza.

The fighting between the troops and supports led to hundreds of civilian (non-military) deaths and thousands injured, which is why President Barack Obama said Thursday that our relations with Egypt “cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.” He believes there was a chance for a peaceful change in power and “for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path.” However, now, the president observes “we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken.”

Now, the reason the US tries to help Egypt is because it’s only one of two Arab countries, along with Jordan, that has made peace with Israel. If the US just pulls out of Egypt completely, they might upset the balance of an already delicate relationship. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria explains, “It’s a hornets’ nest. And that’s why the administration is trying not to stir it too much.”

Cairo Egypt montage
Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is the largest city in the Arab world and Africa.

Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, which is a sea route responsible for more than 4% of the world’s oil traffic and 8% of all seaborne trade. This economic importance is why Khairi Abaza, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says, “The reality is that the Egyptian military has not only been a source of stability for the United States in an otherwise turbulent Middle East, but it has also been a cash cow.”

It’s no easy task trying to figure out what to do about the Egypt situation. “The United States faces a really tough dilemma now,” said Middle East analyst Robin Wright. “What to do about the most important country in the Arab world, the cornerstone of the peace process, a country that has received over $30 billion in US aid since the peace process began in the late 1970s.”

Some members of the US Congress believe we should cut off our aid. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona believes the US “should not be supporting this coup.” He and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both visited Egypt on August 5, meeting with representatives of the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood that was removed from power.

So, the main choices the US faces now are to either call it a coup and cut off aid, call it a coup but still send aid, or not call it a coup because the Egyptian military has taken steps towards returning power to a civilian government with elections. Whatever the US decides, it must be very careful in not making an already chaotic situation, worse.