Egypt: Whose side is the US on?


An Egyptian woman casts her vote at a polling station on June 16, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptians went to the polls after Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that the Islamist-led Parliament must be immediately dissolved. Some are calling these actions a "soft coup".


Daniel Berehulak

Hate to say we told you so, but in the last writing on Egypt from GroundTruth we said the only thing that is certain in these elections is uncertainty.

Make no predictions, we cautioned.

And it turned out to be sound advice. But even in the wildly unpredictable political climate of Egypt, the events unfolding in this week are truly extraordinary.

With the two days of voting in the run-off election over the weekend having ended, it already appears from early returns that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will take the presidency – at least that is what political experts on the ground are saying. But the old-guard candidate is also claiming victory.

Again, make no predictions.

While election results are not final, what is abundantly clear is the Egyptian military is holding on to power, and will not be giving it up anytime soon.

More from GlobalPost: Egypt: The revolution continues

Brookings’ Shadi Hamid, who has consistently been on the money in analyzing Egypt from the street protest of Tahrir Square that toppled Hosni Mubarak right up to the last turn in the road, called the events of the last week a “soft coup” by the Egyptian military.

At first, the Egyptian military dissolved the parliament, which had been elected in January with a decisive majority from the Muslim Brotherhood party. That feat of political engineering could indeed be seen as a soft coup. But when the military issued a further decree over the weekend that it would retain control over the budget and the process that will draft a constitution, it is hard to see the events on the ground as anything short of a “hard coup.”

The military – which by some estimates controls up to 30 percent of the Egyptian economy – is not going to surrender power. The military insists it will turn power over to the elected president next month, but the larger question is what power is left in the executive branch?

The short answer is very little.

More from GlobalPost: The 'black box' of Egyptian military power

For months, the US State Department has been in “listening mode” on Egypt, as one Western diplomat stationed in Cairo put it.

Even Hamid agreed that there was little the US could do beyond listening in those months.

But now, Hamid and other top analysts believe, the US will have to choose. Is it on the side of democracy or is it going to allow the military to retrench its power?

For decades, the US has favored stability in the region over democracy. It has propped up dictatorships and thwarted the popular support of Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, in favor of that sought-after stability.

The great, revealing truth of the stunning events of the Arab Spring was that the stability was fragile in every corner of the Middle East.

And now the United States will have to do more than listen, it will have to decide if it supports democracy or not.

Hamid, for one, is calling for the US to cut off military aid until the military understands that it will have to allow the path to democracy to make its way forward.

That seems to be a very good idea, indeed.