Time For a Reality Check for Egypt's Military Rulers

For months, the Egyptian military council has blamed "an invisible hand" and "foreign instigators" for the demonstrations against its rule. Yet, despite all its condemnations against "Western interference,” only Egyptians were being arrested, beaten up, and tried in military court. 

Aside from one Israeli who was accused of being a spy, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) based their entire public relations campaign on rumors and allegations of outside involvement in Egypt's internal affairs rather than substantiated evidence.

The dilemma in the government taking such an approach is that the Egyptian revolution has primarily been an internal affair. For decades, American lawmakers appreciated Mubarak's hardline stance against Islamism and helped strengthen — rather than undermine — the military by endowing Egypt with a high amount of foreign aid, second only to Israel. The $1.3 billion Egypt receives annually has forced the military into an awkward dance between saving face at home and maintaining their friendship abroad. Finally, with their legitimacy deteriorating at home, push came to shove. If the ruling army was going to be seen as credible by its compatriots, it needed to deliver proof of the Western interference it had railed against. 

In December, the Egyptian military decided it was no longer interested in this precarious relationship with the United States, and in the process inadvertently hurt itself. By raiding almost a dozen Western NGOs and charging 43 members of their staffs with "illegal foreign funding," Egypt has committed to its conspiracy theory and set off a firestorm of international and congressional condemnation in the process.

Already worried about the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military's continuation of Mubarak era human rights, American officials are taking a stand and threatening to cut back on crucial aid.

"If anybody goes to jail I think there'll be a backlash you can't contain," Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters. Forty-one other congressmen wrote a harsh letter warning Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi that funding would be jeopardized  if any NGO officials were jailed. 

For Egyptian officials visiting next week, this means a very icy reception on Capitol Hill, and a very embarrassing decision on how to proceed. The Egyptian military has already boxed itself in. Should the trial of 19 Americans - including the son of Transportation Minister Ray LaHood — go forward, Egypt may lose its favorable status with American lawmakers all together.

The implications of such a fallout would be dramatic, but with Egypt's military showing no effort to improve the abusive human rights records that defined the Mubarak era, its unwillingness to move towards a more transparent democracy, and its ungrateful hubris towards its long time American ally, a reality check is in order.

Photo Credit: David Dietz