The struggle going on in Egypt among the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and secular groups is a complicated one that few Americans claim to understand. But two things are not hard to grasp. The first is that an unelected government is using deadly force on a mass scale against opponents who have been largely nonviolent. The second is that by continuing to provide more than a billion dollars a year in aid to the regime, the United States is effectively condoning this savagery.
On Wednesday, the military moved against protesters camped in Cairo. The New York Times reported that the attack, "the third mass killing of Islamist demonstrators since the military ousted Mr. Morsi six weeks ago, followed a series of government threats. But the scale — lasting more than 12 hours, with armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, birdshot, live ammunition and snipers — and the ferocity far exceeded the Interior Ministry’s promises of a gradual and measured dispersal. At least one protester was incinerated in his tent. Many others were shot in the head or chest, including some who appeared to be in their early teens..." The Interior Ministry had promised it would give protesters an avenue to leave without harm. But it didn't.
At least 525 people were killed and 4,000 injured, though the Muslim Brotherhood put the death toll at more than 2,000. What's become clear is that the military rulers are willing to spill as much blood as they think necessary to crush its opponents.
The United States had little leverage over the government of Mohammed Morsi and it has little leverage over this one. The Obama administration implored the military to exercise restraint, but it was ignored. So its only sensible option is to stop providing financial support.
Will it force a change in course in Cairo? Maybe not. But it can't be any more futile than what we've done so far. And given a choice between two ineffective options, I'll take the one that saves a billion dollars.
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