It's time to cut military aid to Egypt

Naturally, many Egyptians will interpret this as unwelcome interference in their domestic affairs. The U.S., then, would need to explain its position, its “red lines,” and the consequences for crossing them through renewed public diplomacy, engaging directly with Egyptian political parties and civil society actors.

Suspending aid is unlikely to change SCAF’s behavior in the short-run, as my Brookings colleague Bruce Riedel warns. Blocking the transfer of military equipment to Egypt would be important but probably not important enough, particularly for an Egyptian military that sees itself as fighting an existential battle for control of the nation.

It might seem counterintuitive to claim that freezing military assistance could “work,” even if it fails to alter the SCAF’s autocratic practices. But this is exactly the point — it’s imperative for the U.S. to move beyond a reactive, day-to-day strategy in Egypt. There is a widespread perception in Egypt and the broader Middle East that American demands can be ignored if they fall outside of the core U.S. interests: the peace treaty with Israel, over-flight rights (in case there is military action against Iran), access to the Suez Canal, and counter-terrorism. Anything else is seen as just rhetoric.

Undoing this perception will take years and a fundamental re-orientation of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.