I am as skeptical as anyone of the intentions of the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt led by Mohamed Morsi. From the appearance of a veiled newscaster on Egyptian state television to the attempted remilitarization of the Sinai, there are certainly troubling signs of what the new regime intends. But there are also some positive signs—from Morsi’s interest in free-market reforms to the offensive he ordered in the Sinai against militants who attacked Egyptian outposts and his willingness to stick it in the face of his Iranian hosts by backing the Syrian revolt while on a visit to Tehran. It is simply too soon to tell how much of a threat—or not—the new Egypt will be.
Nevertheless the Obama administration is right to extend roughly a billion dollars in debt forgiveness to Egypt and to support a new IMF loan that could approach five billion dollars.
The compelling case for continuing economic aid is made by Israeli officials themselves, despite the nervousness they feel about the new regime. As the New York Times notes:
American and Israeli officials, including Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, have sought to assure members of Congress that assistance should proceed, despite reservations about the Muslim Brotherhood’s political rise. They have argued that persistently high unemployment, especially among women and young people, could undermine Mr. Morsi’s government, causing further instability in Egypt and beyond.
That is exactly right: a more prosperous Egypt is less likely to breed political extremism, whereas if the Morsi government presides over Egypt’s economic disintegration it is likely to deflect blame on “Zionists,” “Crusaders,” and all the usual suspects. Moreover, the more aid that Morsi accepts, the more he will be dependent on the U.S. and the West. That will act as a powerful check on those within the Brotherhood, or among the more extreme Salafists, who would like to tear up the Camp David Accords and return to a state of war with Israel. Not surprisingly, these extremists oppose IMF aid because they don’t want Egypt tied closely to the West.