Thinking Aloud: When Allies Embarrass You

May. 2, 2014 by Darius 

Tomorrow is World Press Freedom Day, which, as you can imagine, is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of a free and healthy press.  One of the places where journalists have been most under attack this year is Egypt.  This week, US Senator Patrick Leahy (D, VT) blocked the US government’s planned release of $650 million in military aid to Egypt.  Leahy cited the ongoing crackdown against dissent and protests, in particular noting the mass death sentences handed down by Egyptian courts against dissidents.

Finally someone is using the US legislative system’s array of procedural holdups to do something good.  The US should have ended all aid to Egypt months ago, and the public never really got a chance to join the debate.  Leahy’s action ensures that, at the very least, the issue of US support for Egypt’s current regime will be subject to public discussion.

Leahy himself put it best: “We can’t stand here and say, ‘Golly, gee whiz, we’re disturbed by hundreds of people being sentenced to death after a few minutes in a mass trial.  But actually, we’ve been friends for so long, we’ll send you some money, but you should stop doing that.’”  [Quoted in “Leahy Blocks $650 Million to Egypt,” The Washington Post, April 30, 2014, p.A3, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sen-leahy-blocks-us-aid-to-egypt-to-protest-nations-appalling-abuse-of-justice-system/2014/04/29/4d5fe0fc-cfe3-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html%5D

It is painfully obvious that the US needs to attach conditions – explicit, unambiguous, measurable conditions – on our continued support for Egypt’s government.  After all, the US is willing to sanction Russian leaders and businessmen over their transgressions.  Egypt’s leaders are guilty of far greater human rights abuses over the last year, yet they haven’t even been given a slap on the wrist.

If freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the rule of law are important to the US and to what the US would like to see evolve in the Middle East, the US needs to put its mouth where its money is.  Yes, some Egyptians will complain about US interference, as usual, but it would seem Egyptians can’t possibly dislike us any more than they already do – we might as well stand up for our values for a change.

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