Egypt's Got 99 Problems, But U.S. Aid Ain't One

I'm not sure what the U.S. government was hoping to achieve by suspending some of its military assistance to Egypt, but whatever it was -- it failed.

Though the State Department declared that the purpose was to nudge Egypt towards making "credible progress" towards democracy, this is neither serious nor convincing.

The decision is not serious - because, if it were, the United States would have done much more than cancel war games and a four-year-old order of tanks. The United States merely wants to be seen as doing "something" to sanction the military-led Egyptian government, which clearly isn't concerned with its already shaky international standing, and continues to wantonly kill its own citizens without a second thought (including on the national holiday a few days prior to the U.S. decision, pictured above). And even as the State Department spokesperson was searching for the most diplomatically appropriate way to say, "We are really mad at you," Secretary of State Kerry was making reassuring remarks to Cairo, emphasizing the United States' "commitment to the success of this government," and that the aid suspension wasn't "a withdrawal from the countries' relationship." That doesn't make for a very convincing message.

And the decision isn't convincing because, on the ground, we can plainly see that the aid cut plays nicely into the Egyptian government's PR campaign. The U.S. decision allows Egypt's rulers, who are fond of populist glory, to assume the stance of the independently-minded renegade standing against the will of the empire. In fact, not only did the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs backhandedly declare the aid cut an incorrect decision in terms of content and timing, but apparently General Sisi also chose to pass a message to the United States via the visiting E.U. representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton: "threats involving aid will not work, because Egypt has friendships with neighboring countries and is able to overcome its financial crisis." Business tycoon and regime supporter Naguib Sawiris called the U.S. move "arrogant" and issued a warning: "Don't underestimate the dignity of the Egyptians."

Essentially, the message from Egypt was "Keep your aid," set to the brouhaha of a fawning audience.

To understand this rather peculiar reaction to losing free money, we need to consider two factors.

First: the nature of the aid in question. The United States provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid, as well as $250 million in development assistance, yearly. Aside from that clear imbalance in favor of armament, which is a nudge for Egypt to uphold the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, most of the aid is tied, which means that Egypt is contractually obligated to buy U.S. equipment and employ U.S. consultants. The money flows back to the United States. (Of all developed countries, the United States has the highest proportion of tied aid). Washington's cuts affect the delivery of military equipment and financial military assistance -- so there's nothing life-threatening or particularly worrisome about them for Egypt's leaders. Besides, the country is still swimming in freshly received petrodollars that have buoyed the government, emboldening it to flatly declare (link in Arabic) that it no longer needs IMF funds, and to send this newest, glib message to the Americans.

Second: the psychology of the Egyptian rulers. The governments that have ruled Egypt since 2011 have displayed a predilection for sacrificing long-term gain for short-term populist plaudits; it was the military junta, after all, that blocked a salutary but unpopular IMF loan in 2011, against the recommendation of the experts at the ministry of finance. The military regime in power today will once again choose to bask in the street glory of its newfound "rebel" image.

While the Egyptian government is snickering and brushing off the U.S. gesture as insignificant, it is nevertheless slightly miffed -- emphasis on "slightly." But one country is genuinely upset about the aid reduction: Israel. Referring to the move as a "strategic error," according to Israel's Channel 2, an unnamed official in the Netanyahu administration was reportedly less than elated with the cuts. While the official was relieved that the cuts didn't touch the "antiterrorism" activities of the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula, he maintained that the United States must also consider "wider interests."

But the United States is indeed looking at those "wider interests" -- and that is precisely why the cuts are so meager and the Egyptian reaction so tame.

If the United States is serious about pushing the Egyptian government toward a more participatory mode of rule, and if aid must be the weapon of choice (the wisdom of which is a different discussion altogether), then it should, as was recently suggested, "double down" on aid -- not to the military, but to civil society. The United States is unpopular as things stand already, but giving means to local organizations would have a greater impact than toying with military aid.

That is, if the United States were serious.

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.



Why Feel-Good Classifications Don't Help When It Comes to Rape

This past Sunday, Indian novelist Lavanya Sankaran published an opinion piece in the New York Times that made waves in social media. She entitled her article, emblematically, "The Good Men of India."

I'm speculating here, but I suspect that she was trying to offer a feel-good read to all those Indians offended by the slew of recent negative media attention the country has attracted of late. (The photo above shows a vigil for the victim of the Delhi gang rape.) And there's no question about it -- it's certainly been a painful experience to read news stories describing India as a country of rape, absolutely unsafe for women, and full of predatory men. Yet Sankaran's response is comically simplistic, if not downright dangerous.

According to her, Indian men today fall into two categories: The first are "feral men, untethered from their distant villages, divorced from family and social structure, fighting poverty, exhausted, denied access to regular female companionship, adrift on powerful tides of alcohol and violent pornography, newly exposed to the smart young women of the cities, with their glistening jobs and clothes and casual independence -- and not able to respond to any of it in a safe, civilized manner." Though she doesn't explicitly label them, it's clear that these are not the men she's referring to in her title. These are the Bad Men of India, the Men Who Rape.

Opposed to this shifty bunch are the eponymous men of Sankaran's title, whom she also refers to, for good measures, as the Common Indian Men: "committed, concerned, cautious; intellectually curious, linguistically witty; socially gregarious, endearingly awkward; quick to laugh, slow to anger. Frequently spotted in domestic circles, traveling in a family herd." She sees these men look after a baby on a plane. She has a friend whose Indian husband is one of these men, and cares for his parents.

Sadly, the situation isn't this black and white. The committed, the concerned, the cautious, the intellectually curious, the linguistically witty, the socially gregarious, the endearingly awkward, the quick to laugh, the slow to anger, those who travel in family herds, those who look after babies, those who care for their parents -- they can rape too. These "Good Indian Men" can also discriminate, harass, hurt and rape. And classifications like Sankaran's make it that much more difficult to speak out against such cases.

What about the heroic jawaans, the regular soldiers of the Indian military responsible for brutal mass rape in Kashmir? Or a respected spiritual leader raping a young girl? Or countless incidents of teachers, in cities and villages, raping their students? (A quick Google search will find you several.) What about Indian members of parliament, shamelessly sexist on record? Or an old Supreme Court Justice who suggests marriage as a post-rape compromise in court? Or the Indian President's son saying that a woman protesting rape is as baffling to him as a woman going to a disco? Where do these men figure in the feral men vs. Common Indian Men taxonomy? Perhaps they fall into other classifications not elaborated on by Sankaran in her piece. But for all she knows, those charming businessmen she saw carrying a baby on a plane could be abusing their wives or girlfriends, too.

Data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau in India show a pervasive reluctance among women to report rape -- across all social classes and education levels. "The NCRB figures also show one important reason why victims have an incentive to remain silent: the rapists are mainly friends, even kin," writes Indian journalist Praveen Swami. "Even though the media overwhelmingly reports on dramatic cases involving attacks by strangers, all but four states reported that nine out of 10 alleged perpetrators or more were known to the victim. In Delhi, that figure was 96.6 percent." Even though there now seems to be considerable political momentum for reforming laws on sexualized violence in India, there is a notoriously cool attitude toward marital rape.

I don't mean to suggest that Sankaran's portrayal of a Common Indian Man is egregiously wrong or offensive -- not in the least. I suspect that she did not intend to blindly categorize Indian men into the kinds who rape and the kinds who do not, but merely to remind us of the good that we already know exists. Yet the picture she paints of her Good Indian Men potentially makes it even harder to trace and punish the crimes committed by those who are part of this picture: friends, husbands, family members, teachers, and the well-educated. Her simplistic rendering of Indian sexual politics runs the risk of reinforcing a culture of impunity among those who benefit from their high status in Indian society.

By comparison, it's worth considering the recent news on rape in the United States. Many of the recent cases making headlines have taken place on college campuses or in high schools -- Maryville, Missouri, and Steubenville, Ohio, being the most recent in the public eye. The perpetrators in these cases have often gained sympathy from many in the public and the media because of how "good" they were: "good students" with "promising futures." The "good" label is dangerous. It mitigates blame for rapists, often transferring it to the victims instead. (And it's worth noting that, despite the rape epidemic on campuses around the country, the New York Times never saw the need to run an op-ed with someone reassuring its readers of the existence of the Good American Man or the Good American College Student. As usual, the soothing oversimplification was reserved for foreigners.)

I have no doubt at all that there are millions of men in India who are kind and respectful to women; my own father, brother, and many other relatives and friends are such Indian men. But the negative stereotypes about Indian men -- or anyone, for that matter -- are not wrong because I know someone who doesn't fit them. They're wrong because it is nonsensical to make statistical generalizations about a massive population based on a tiny and subjective sample. Rape is a crime whose perpetrators transcend national boundaries, class divides, feel-good classifications and stereotypes. Accepting this perhaps unsettling fact is the first step toward addressing the problem.

Uzra Khan is an editorial research assistant at Reuters in New York.