The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 20, 2013

No easy answers for U.S. in dealings with Egypt

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— Between a rock and a hard place.

It’s a common phrase that some say had its roots in the early 20th century.

The Bankers Panic of 1907, or the Knickerbocker Crisis, saw the New York Stock Exchange lose nearly 50 percent of its value from the year before. This sparked  a run on banks, including New York’s Knickerbocker Trust, which failed.

The effects of the Bankers Panic of 1907 spread across the United States, as well as across the years. A decade later, the effects of the 1907 panic led to a dispute between copper mining companies and mine workers in Bisbee, Ariz. The workers approached company officials with a list of demands for better pay and working conditions.

The companies refused, leaving the workers with a choice — go back to being underpaid for doing hard, dangerous work in the copper mines, or quit and be jobless and impoverished. They either toiled in the rock, or found themselves in a hard place financially.

No matter where it came from, the phrase perfectly captures the United States’ position in regards to recent events in Egypt.

The ancient nation once ruled by Pharaohs is tearing itself apart from the inside as supporters of Mohammed Morsi, removed from the office of president in early June by the Egyptian military, clash with police and backers of the current government.

When the military stepped in and brought down the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi government, many around the world decried the action as a coup.

U.S. law requires our government to withdraw aid when a country undergoes a coup. But America continues to pour money into Egypt, some $1.3 billion annually to the military alone.

When is a coup not a coup? When the question involves one of our strongest allies in a part of the world where we need all the friends we can get, there are no easy answers.

Egypt is one of the few Middle East nations to formally make peace with Israel, a move made official by the signing of the 1978 Camp David accords championed by President Jimmy Carter.

Egypt is responsible for defending the Suez Canal, an important waterway used by U.S. Navy ships some 40 times a year, thus saving a two-week, 6,000-mile jaunt around Africa. Egyptian air space also is open to U.S. military aircraft.

We weren’t crazy about the Muslim Brotherhood having control of Egypt’s government, even though Morsi was legally elected to office after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 as part of the so-called “Arab Spring,” uprisings that spread across the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative organization that wants to run Egypt by Shariah, or Islamic, law.

Over the past week, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have clashed daily with the Egyptian police and military, resulting in a bloodbath.

Hundreds of people have been killed in fighting in the past week. On Monday alone, Morsi supporters killed 25 policemen execution style and 38 Muslim Brotherhood members held prisoner reportedly died in a riot.

Pressure is mounting on President Obama from both sides of the political aisle to halt aid to Egypt and to denounce the removal of Morsi as a coup.

But doing so risks a crucial alliance in one of the world’s most volatile regions and also could threaten the safety of Israel.

Not doing so flies in the face of America’s push for democracy in the region, since we would be supporting a military government that overthrew an unpopular but legally elected leader.

And in the meantime, more and more people die as Egypt continues to descend into insurgency and chaos as we ponder our options.

Between a rock and a hard place. Yep, that pretty much sums it up.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.