Skip to main content

U.S. must not fail Egypt

By Anthony H. Cordesman, Special to CNN
updated 4:01 PM EDT, Fri July 5, 2013
A bus passes a destroyed pickup truck with loudspeakers that was used by supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy on Friday, August 2. The supporters and security forces clashed in Sixth of October City in Giza, south of Cairo, after the government ordered their protest camps be broken up. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/15/middleeast/gallery/egypt-violence-august/index.html' target='_blank'>Look at the latest violence in Egypt.</a> A bus passes a destroyed pickup truck with loudspeakers that was used by supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy on Friday, August 2. The supporters and security forces clashed in Sixth of October City in Giza, south of Cairo, after the government ordered their protest camps be broken up. Look at the latest violence in Egypt.
HIDE CAPTION
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cordesman: U.S. must focus not on details of Morsy ouster but on Egypt's ongoing crisis
  • He says Mubarak corrupt, ineffective, but in past 2 years, nation in economic collapse
  • He says U.S. most focus on reality, work with World Bank, allies to raid Egypt economy
  • Writer: Threatening aid cutoff while nation in flux could do vast harm, cripple a key regional ally

Editor's note: Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow CSIS on Twitter.

(CNN) -- As it measures its response to the recent events on Egypt, the U.S. needs to be extremely careful about focusing on the definition of "coup" and the legitimacy -- or non-legitimacy -- of Mohamed Morsy's election, the draft constitution, and the now-ousted Egyptian president's efforts to give himself additional powers. It needs to be equally careful about focusing on the protests that helped drive him from power, and the legitimacy of political Islam.

If the U.S. focuses on whether or not a coup took place, it will be ignoring the fact that Egypt is a key center of the Middle East and that U.S. policy will be judged by its success in meeting the needs of Egypt's people. Egypt is a nation whose problems go far deeper than the crisis that began January 2011.

Anthony H. Cordesman
Anthony H. Cordesman

As the Arab Human Development report made clear in 2009, former President Hosni Mubarak's rule had become steadily more ineffective, corrupt, and incapable of meeting the needs of Egypt's people long before 2011. He had been in power since October 1981, but the social and economic progress he made in his first decade in power had faded into a static, incompetent regime by 2005, and one that became steadily more corrupt and unable to meet the needs of Egypt's young and growing population.

The last two years have made the situation far worse in ways that affect every aspect of day-to-day life. Mubarak's fall tore down a fragile regime that mixed a state-driven economy with crony capitalism. It was a country with a bureaucracy that could barely function without a strong leader, one with no opposition parties that had real political experience or capability to govern, and whose "reformers" were (and still are) protesters with no capability to make real reforms.

Opinion: In Egypt, get ready for extremist backlash

The end result is that Egypt is not an abstract exercise in political theory. It is a nation of more than 85 million people, at least 25% of whom live in dire poverty, and where unemployment and underemployment can no longer be accurately estimated but have reached the crisis level. It is a nation with over 50% of its population under 25 years of age, and 31% under 14, but with an education system in breakdown and much of the infrastructure frozen or losing capacity.

Violence in streets of Cairo after coup
Tensions continue to grow in Egypt
Supporters vow to return Morsy to palace

Egypt's foreign reserves have dropped by more than 50% and it faces a crisis in getting loans from the International Monetary Fund. It is a nation where foreign investment has critically declined, tourist revenue has dropped sharply, where many small businesses have already collapsed, and many middle class Egyptians have lost their jobs and savings. Fuel and electric power are lacking, food subsidies are uncertain and sometimes failing, the currency is increasingly unstable, and crime has skyrocketed.

U.S. policy must focus on these realities, and not just politics. The U.S., in partnership with its allies, the World Bank and other international aid agencies institutions needs to support immediate Egyptian efforts to salvage the economy and bring economic reform. It needs to focus on bringing relief and stability. No Egyptian government can succeed -- democratic or not -- that cannot meet the needs of the Egyptian people. Real political legitimacy is not determined by how a government is chosen, but by how well it can meet the needs of its people.

Opinion: Will Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood survive?

As for politics, the U.S. needs to work with other states to push Egypt's military to support the reforms that failed between early 2011 and Morsy's fall. This means a broad-based effort to agree on a constitution, the creation of real political parties, and help for protesters learning how to organize politically and focus on practical governance and reform. It means taking enough time for elections to be open, to include Islamic and more secular parties, and focusing on the same kind of mixed national government and consensus politics that seem to have emerged in Tunisia.

One test of a solution to a problem is that it does not make things even worse. Threatening Egypt's military, rigidly cutting off aid because of a "coup" under conditions where there is no credible replacement government, and standing aside as Egypt drifts towards internal collapse is not a strategy.

Letting today's celebration of Morsy's fall turn into civil conflict and political paralysis will be a moral and ethical failure on the part of the Obama administration and the Congress, one that will do the Egyptian people vast harm, cripple a key ally, and leave a legacy of lasting anger in both Egypt and the region.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Cordesman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT