Wednesday, February 02, 2011

More Egypt

[Open and frank discussions between pro- and anti-government demonstrators]

from today's NY Times --

The army’s role and its ultimate game plan have remained opaque, with soldiers seeming to fraternize with protesters, without moving against the elite to which its officers belong. While the military has said it will not use force against peaceful protesters, the signs on Wednesday suggested that any gap between it and Mr. Mubarak was narrowing.

The announcement by a military spokesman appeared to be a call for demonstrators, who have turned out in hundreds of thousands in recent days, to leave the streets. It came as high-powered diplomacy between Cairo and Washington unfolded at a blistering pace and reverberations from the protest continue to rumble through the Arab world.

Which reinforces the lesson of the experts on Charlie Rose. "Opaque" and "we don't know" seem pretty close together to me. What is artfully omitted from the reporting is with whom in Cairo the diplomacy is being conducted. One assumes it is with the high command in the Egyptian army. If the army can maintain control of its troops - far from a given - then it can shape the incoming government regardless of whether Mubarak is in it or not.

Washington has a strong leverage over Egyptian politics. We send $1.6 billion dollars to Egypt every year under the terms of the Camp David Accords of 1977. If Egypt abrogates the treaty the money stops. The treaty requires Egypt to maintain peace with Israel, maintain the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, and permit the US to use the Suez Canal.

There are strings attached to the money. One is that it must be spent in the United States. Which means that the gift is not really of cash, but of goods and services produced by the United States. Fortunately the US economy, in spite of all the bad things one has heard about it, is a colossus which produces $14 trillion of goods and services every year. If you want to buy something useful to Egyptians -- say a million tons of wheat -- you can generally buy it here. Since the money gets spent in America, the $1.6 billion is as much a subsidy to American manufacturers and farmers as it is aid to Egypt. Requiring it to be spent here also makes it harder, but not impossible, for Egyptian officials to simply pocket it for themselves.

But it could be cut off if Washington decides the treaty has been abrogated. As it would surely be if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. One assumes that secret provisions of the treaty require Egypt to cooperate in counter-terrorism efforts by the US and European powers. One assumes this because Egypt has helped enormously in those efforts.

I have heard it said that cutting off aid would be ineffective because it is too blunt a weapon to be useful. Which shows what flat-out morons journalists are. Or lying partisans. One never knows for sure which. In fact nothing is more flexible than money. One can cut off some or all. One can condition some or all of it on whatever Washington decides constitutes compliance with treaty obligations. One can make it spendable on some things but not on others. Washington has a billion options.

Washington's leverage is all the stronger because the feeble Egyptian economy would be in even worse shape than it already is if the aid were cut off or diminished. On the other side we have the problem of having the most inept Secretary of State in living memory in charge. One can hope that in spite of Secretary Clinton's valuable efforts, the Egyptian army will be cohesive enough to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power rather than face the cutoff of aid.


No comments:

Post a Comment