A decision being considered in Washington to restore all of Egypt’s military aid would constitute abandonment by President Obama of U.S. principles in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Egypt was the second country in the Middle East, following Tunisia, to oust a crusty dictator in the Arab Spring and elect a new president. President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, was pushed out in 2011. Free elections were held in 2012, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded him. Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi in 2013 and put him in detention, where he remains. The general was then chosen as president in 2014, in a dubious election in which he received 97 percent of the vote.

U.S. law requires Washington to cut off aid to countries that have military coups. Instead, the Obama administration suspended $700 million of Egypt’s annual $1.3 billion in military support, promoting the fiction that Sisi’s power grab wasn’t really a coup.

Sisi is seeking funds to try to rebuild Egypt’s economy, which has been damaged by the political upheaval and armed resistance to his rule. The country’s previously flourishing tourist industry, for example, has been wrecked. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all Sunni states – have pledged $12 billion to revive the economy of Sunni Egypt.

Sisi’s regime now wants its U.S. military aid restored. The problem for the Obama administration is that it will either have to certify that Egypt is making progress toward democracy – it isn’t – or disregard U.S. law on the basis of national security. Both options are odious. The best course for Washington would be to withhold all aid to Egypt until the Cairo government cleans up its act.

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