By Charles R. Kennedy Jr, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Charles R. Kennedy Jr., is an associate professor of management at the Wake Forest School of Business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The views expressed are his own.
As the debate continues over whether the United States should (or indeed has) cut-off aid to Egypt in light of the ongoing brutal crackdown, Washington should perhaps be asking itself another question: have crimes against humanity been committed?
This suggestion might at first glance seem outlandish to some. And yet with about a thousand dead so far (many of whom were most likely killed with U.S.-supplied arms), it is worth noting that the numerous attacks on unarmed, civilian protesters do indeed fit the official definition of such crimes.
According to the International Criminal Court: “any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: murder…persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds…and other inhuman acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.”
The actions of Egypt’s military since last month’s coup are clearly consistent with such a definition, and the United States must therefore ask itself whether it can continue to conduct business with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. After all, more civilians have been killed in the past two weeks by Egyptian security forces than were reportedly killed in the first six months of Syria’s uprising by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Obama administration urged to step aside back in 2011.
So what should the U.S. do now? A suspension of military aid and weapons purchases, if combined with a demand that General el-Sisi step down as army chief, would place significant pressure on the Egyptian military to change its current course of action. In addition, the United States should publicly state at the U.N. Security Council that it will seek an investigation into events, while privately it could urge el-Sisi to seek exile in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.
Some might advise that such action is too bold, and hope instead that the situation in Egypt will settle down, allowing elections like the relatively stable and free democratic ones conducted last year, which were described by Freedom House as “close to international standards.”
Sadly, any election conducted in the foreseeable future will not be free and competitive because Islamist parties will not be allowed to take part. In fact, their leaders would most likely remain in detention – political prisoners as the military conducts polls akin to the rigged (or least very tightly controlled) elections seen during the Mubarak era.
If an election is held under these conditions, Egypt could find itself an authoritarian police state with democratic trappings. More likely, the military crackdown will fail to fully suppress the Islamists, who will then respond with a violent and widespread insurgency from their rural strongholds. Such a situation would be attractive to jihadists from around the world, who would likely be drawn to the fray much as they have in Syria.
Of course, some argue that given Saudi and United Arab Emirate money, cutting off U.S. aid would merely be symbolic. But this ignores the high cost to the Egyptian military when they are unable to upgrade or buy new weapons systems from the United States.
There are other questions that halting aid would raise: What about the potential for Israeli-Palestinian talks to be derailed? And could the U.S. find itself shut out from the Suez Canal? Sadly, the former question is best answered with another question: How great are the prospects right now for a breakthrough in negotiations? And the idea that the United States would find access to the Suez Canal limited seems far-fetched at a time when growing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program mean that Saudi Arabia and the UAE both want an American presence in the region in the event of a confrontation.
Finally, some argue that Egypt today ultimately faces a simple choice between military stability and anarchy. But this ignores a third outcome that is still possible with U.S. pressure: national reconciliation and atonement.
Peacefully resolving the current crisis will not be possible without an investigation into the events of recent weeks, with those responsible being held to account. And such a process must start with General el-Sisi resigning to allow a new army chief of staff to mediate a power-sharing arrangement that restores many of the personal freedoms and liberties that have been whisked away from the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. One option could be a tripartite Executive Council composed of the new army chief, a representative of the anti-Morsy opposition not tainted by recent events, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, appointed by a restored President Morsy, who resigns and transfers executive powers to this three-person committee. A majority vote approach on the Executive Council could then be used to steer the country toward a new constitutional system, one that Egyptians choose through their leaders.
Recent events have made the United States look hypocritical, and bolstered the widely held opinion in the Muslim world that the U.S. only supports elected leaders when it suits American interests. If the United States wants to avoid stoking radicalism in the region it must take bold action. If not, whenever America attempts to weigh in on the side of fair and non-violent elections, it will be met with a shrug of the shoulders and the words: “So what about Egypt?”