Congress cannot decide, even within political parties, whether to end Egypt’s military aid. The Boston Globe’s Stephen Ohlemacher shared jumbled viewpoints from pro- and anti-aid camps Monday. In his examples, congressmen tended to debate whether or not Morsi’s overthrow was a coup. Others tried to determine which group represents the “good guys” in Egypt, or which aligned best with American “values.”
But perhaps these men are asking the wrong questions. Ohlemacher called Egypt a “pivotal Middle East ally.” But what if, in actuality, Egypt doesn’t matter much in the Middle East at all?
This is the opinion of TIME contributor Bobby Ghosh. He wrote Sunday that, while Cairo used to be a cultural, political, and economic superpower, its clout has waned incredibly over the past several years. He describes it as an “economic basket case” with little political authority, as well as “laughably bad” media and universities. The U.S. is viewing Egypt through a lens that expired 50 or 60 years ago:
“While Egypt has weakened over the past four decades, several other regional players have grown stronger and more ambitious. Some of these — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey — are American allies (much of the time, anyway), which means Egypt’s utility to the U.S. as an interlocutor to the Arab world is greatly diminished. Washington might have valued Egypt’s support for its efforts in Syria, but an Egypt run by brute generals presiding over the slaughter of their own civilians is hardly a credible partner in dealing with Bashar Assad.”
Egypt’s only importance at this point, Ghosh believes, lies in its fragility: “Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy.”
If this is true, then U.S. Congressmen are asking the wrong questions regarding Egypt, at least when it comes to policy decisions. If Egypt is not a “pivotal Middle East ally,” we must determine who is – and perhaps allocate resources that direction. Wise investment in the region will become increasingly important if Egypt continues to fray politically. The New Republic’s Eric Trager echoed Ghosh’s concern over radicalism: as the military disbands Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the groups’ members will become more furious and vicious:
“…By disorganizing Egypt’s most cohesive Islamist group, the generals have turned hundreds of thousands of deeply ideological Muslim Brothers into free radicals, who will no longer listen to their typically cautious leaders. Many younger Muslim Brothers, in particular, lean towards Salafism, and their upbringing in the Brotherhood—whose motto concludes with the phrase “death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations”—has made them willing to die for Islamism, and possibly willing to fight for it as well.”
Military aid will not prevent such violence. Rather, if the past few weeks are any indication, it will further the rage. Egypt may have played an important role in past U.S. foreign policy; at present, its lack of regional influence and instability necessitate a clean break.