DESPITE THE euphoria in the streets after Egypt’s military deposed President Mohammed Morsi, tough times lie ahead for the country. Protesters rallying for Morsi’s departure included secular liberals, remnants of the old regime of strongman Hosni Mubarak, and Salafists who are even more conservative than Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. This motley crew had only one thing in common: the desire to get rid of Morsi. Now that he is gone, there is little that unites them.
Egypt’s best hope is for the military to reboot the country’s democracy by installing an inclusive caretaker government that will create a new process for drafting a constitution and holding fair elections. Yet the circumstances of Morsi’s ouster are sure to haunt Egypt for some time.
The Muslim Brotherhood likely remains the country’s largest political movement. It will not simply fade away, especially when supporters believe it was wrongly ousted from power. The greatest danger is that the group could revert back to its militant past. One hope of the Arab Spring was that Islamists across the region could be convinced to use politics — not violence — to make their voices heard. Morsi’s removal damages that message. Reports of a crackdown on him and his supporters are deeply worrisome.
Regardless of how disappointed millions of Egyptians were in Morsi’s rule, he was an elected president. It is hard to argue that Morsi’s removal was anything but a military coup. As such, US law dictates that the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt be cut. The Obama administration is likely to look for ways around that law, and a flexible approach is in order. Aid to Egypt flows from its peace agreement with Israel, so cuts could jeopardize that treaty.
Nonetheless, if Egypt’s generals fail to move in a more democratic direction, some curbs to military support should be on the table. Anti-American sentiments run high in Egypt, and US influence over events is limited. Still, the United States must use the few tools it possesses to help Egypt achieve a more stable path.