Mohammed Morsi’s presidency was a huge missed opportunity. He placed himself above the law, failed to govern inclusively or capably, pursued a narrow ideological agenda and pushed through revisions to Egypt’s constitution that did not secure the basic rights of all citizens. This misrule had dire costs for Egypt’s economy and society, and we have a lot of sympathy for the millions of Egyptians who called on the military to remove Morsi from power.
Not all coups are created equal, but a coup is still a coup. Morsi was elected by a majority of voters, and U.S. law requires the suspension of our foreign assistance to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’tat or decree … in which the military plays a decisive role.” Congress should review this law to determine whether it serves our national interests, but at this time we believe the United States must suspend assistance to Egypt.
Egypt is not just any country. It is the heart and soul of the Arab world, and the stability of Egypt is a critical U.S. national interest. But we must recognize, as President Obama said, that “the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties — secular and religious, civilian and military.” That is all the more reason suspending U.S. assistance to Egypt is both right and necessary.
The prospect of fully restoring our long-standing relationship with Egypt would be the best way to encourage its military and transitional government to take the urgent steps needed to move Egypt toward lasting democracy over the coming months. Those steps should include the participation of Egyptians across the political spectrum to establish a constitutional and democratic system that enjoys maximum public support; protects the basic rights of all Egyptians, including the right to speak freely and demonstrate peacefully; and leads as soon as possible to successful elections for a new civilian government. Egypt’s military and interim government must ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood is included and able to participate in this political process. The Brotherhood must do its part, especially by ceasing its calls for an uprising against the military and by preventing acts of violence by its supporters.
We know that many of our friends in Egypt and the region do not want the United States to suspend assistance. But we are fully committed to encouraging the Egyptian people’s efforts to build an effective and enduring democracy. And if Egyptians join together and move their country toward the democratic future that so many of them have risked so much to achieve, we will be the first to call for a full restoration of U.S. assistance to Egypt.
Until then, we can implement this suspension in a way that furthers our interest in a democratic and secure Egypt. The law allows assistance to civil society groups, election preparations, democracy promotion and other nongovernmental activities in Egypt. We should move urgently to deepen our engagement with the Egyptian people on this basis.
Egyptians will continue to face serious threats during this critical time. We should take every lawful step we can to help our Egyptian partners secure their country, which also benefits U.S. regional allies and our own national security interests. Our law requires a suspension of State Department assistance but not aid from the Defense Department. The president could use those authorities and resources to sustain limited cooperation with the Egyptian military to secure our mutual short-term objectives, such as counterterrorism, border security, intelligence sharing and maintaining regional peace.
If events in Egypt and the broader Middle East over the past three years have taught us anything, it should be that we may pay a short-term price by standing up for our democratic values, but it is in our long-term national interest to do so.
John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, represent Arizona and South Carolina in the Senate, respectively.