To Restore Egypt, Neutralize the Military

As the death toll in the dizzying events playing out on the streets of Egypt in recent days rises past an astonishing 1,000, Western allies are being forced to consider their allegiances with the interim government in Cairo, including their financial assistance.

This, rather predictably, is being met with disdain by the military-backed government. After all, they're dependent and need the cash to survive. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy all but warned foreign governments (especially those providing aid) to stay out of what he called his country's internal affairs, coming after the European Union said it was reviewing its €5-billion aid this year to Egypt with urgency in the wake of the spiraling deadly violence following the ouster by the military of president Mohammed Morsi in early July and his subsequent detention.

In a statement, the EU said:

We regret deeply that international efforts and proposals for building bridges and establishing an inclusive political process ... were set aside and a course of confrontation was instead pursued.

Meanwhile, the generals in Cairo, led by de facto ruler General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, wait to see if President Obama will cave in to calls for him to actually call what happened by its true name -- a coup -- thereby triggering the legal suspension of some $1.5 billion in military and other aid to Egypt. But given that that has not yet happened, amid the astonishing number of deaths, it is unlikely unless a disaster of gargantuan proportions erupts -- a scenario that could transpire should the government go ahead with banning Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, drawing the retaliatory ire of its millions of supporters.

Britain and others are similarly cautious. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, limply declared that "it's not for us to take sides" while failing to denounce the military's toppling of Morsi and installation of a hand-picked administration. It was, he said, a "grey area."

It is very clearly black and white.

No government can have any legitimacy when it tramples all over democracy while blithely espousing the tenets of democracy. Morsi may have misruled in his 12 months in office -- a scant amount of time in any new administration -- and disenfranchised millions of people, but for anyone to have any real validity they should have waited until the next election to legitimately voice their displeasure. Otherwise, what was the point of the rebellion that led to the downfall of the decades-long authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak? What's happening now is a grotesque manifestation of having your cake and eating it too.

And in an extraordinary twist that renders the entire circumstance almost farcical, the judiciary has announced that Mubarak may be freed this week after it was decided there were no grounds to detain him amid what had been his retrial over the deaths of protesters in the 2011 uprising that cast him from power. It's a rolling revolution that's gone from new era to déjà vu bust.

From the generals' perspective, foreign governments should maintain their aid support; they want to take the money and keep on running. But it seems likely, with outraged EU foreign ministers meeting this week to decide on relations with Cairo, that at least some assistance will be held back until the perilous situation stabilizes. Why would democratic governments want to prop up a coterie of self-appointed rulers who crush elected officials who don't toe their hard line?

Some are warning that the events in Egypt this past month are just the beginning of a slow and torturous restoration of something approaching normality for the country's 82.5 million people.

"What's happening now in the Middle East is the most important event so far of the 21st century, even compared to the financial crisis we've been through in terms of its impact on world affairs and I think it will take years and maybe even decades to play out," Britain's Hague said.

The longer it takes to restore the ballot box to the heart of the country's authority, and banish the meddling military from politics, the harder it will be to achieve lasting stability. The generals must be removed from the equation; otherwise what hope of the next government they fall out with, and of the country?

A gleaming example of how to extricate a powerful military apparatus from politics is Indonesia. The large Southeast Asian nation was ruled by the former military general Suharto for 32 years before a revolt triggered by the Asian financial meltdown of 1997 saw the military-backed strongman who came to office on a coup booted out. Parliament soon passed legislation neutralizing the military's involvement in political life, and since then the country has enjoyed solid economic growth and prosperity for its people amid successive, stable, democratically elected governments.

This is Egypt's task. It is the task for its people, and those who claim to hold the reins of power for their benefit. Endless demonstrating in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, continuous bloody clampdowns and prosecuting of elected presidents will not achieve anything in the long run.