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How US can use aid to nudge Egypt

American influence in Egypt is dwindling. But the US could still support democracy there by temporarily freezing military aid during the transitional period to be reinstated if the transition includes the Muslim Brotherhood and the new constitution protects minorities.

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A poster showing Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi hangs in a popular coffee shop in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 27. Op-ed contributor Mohamed Elmenshawy writes regarding the US-Egypt relationship: 'The exchange of “aid for cooperation” is no longer working.' The relationship 'must evolve to meet changing circumstances.'

Amr Nabil/AP

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The American relationship with Egypt needs to change if Washington wants to have substantive influence in Cairo. America’s recent strategy in Egypt has been focused on buying Egyptian compliance through military and economic aid, but it seems to have had little effect.

Nearly two months after the ouster of Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, President Obama appeared on CNN to affirm that a full revision of the US-Egyptian relationship is now underway by stating, “There's no doubt that we can't return to business as usual, given what's happened.”

Obama’s remarks indicate a shift in the administration’s near-silent public posture since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. While many have seen Mr. Obama’s reticence as reflective of muted approval, his recent remarks affirm that the decades-old US-Egyptian relationship of “aid for cooperation” is failing. The US has unrivalled access to the inner workings of the new Egyptian regime, but this access does not necessarily translate into more influence over the interim government’s decisions.

America’s $1.3 billion military aid package to Egypt has granted the US privileged access to the country. Moreover, the relationship between the US and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, head of Egypt’s now-governing military, is strengthened by his past. He is the first-ever head of the Egyptian military to have trained in the United States, where he was selected to attend the US Army War College in 2006. Mr. Sisi and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have exchanged phone calls on an almost daily basis since Morsi’s ouster.

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