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Sisi’s Fearful Egypt

3:05 PM, Jun 11, 2014 • By ERIC TRAGER
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The business community is particularly fearful of this. During a mid-May meeting, Sisi reportedly surprised an assembly of businessmen when he demanded that they establish a 100-billion Egyptian-pound fund for the “building Egypt.” When one businessman protested that he had “negative bank accounts around the world,” Sisi snapped back, saying: “I’m asking you and telling you this, so that when our God inquires on Judgment Day about the reason why I did not knock on all doors, I will tell him: God, I did so, but no one answered me.” Many within the business community interpreted this as a threat, and withheld their mobilizing support on the first day of voting to send Sisi a message. A frightened business community will further complicate Sisi’s ability to resurrect Egypt’s economy.

Indeed, despite electing a strongman, Egypt is unlikely to stabilize anytime soon, and Washington is thus rightly concerned that Cairo’s new regime will make matters worse. But while the Obama administration shouldn’t condone Egypt’s authoritarian trajectory as a “democratic transition,” it should be realistic about its capacity for influencing it. The existential conflict between the regime and the Brotherhood significantly limits Washington’s ability to encourage political moderation, and withholding the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Egypt will hurt the U.S.-Egyptian strategic relationship without producing democratization. Moreover, given that Egyptians broadly view the military aid as a guarantor of their country’s external security, and not a tool for shaping its domestic politics, withholding aid at the very moment that Egypt faces threats on multiple borders will exacerbate popular anxieties in an already fearful country.

Eric Trager is the Esther K. Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

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