Presumably not, judging by last night's debate. For Romney, economic aid is a tool for preventing the influx of radicals, because without economic
development, "you see al Qaeda rushing in, you see other jihadist groups rushing in." For Obama, economic aid is meant to help the Egyptian people realize
their aspirations, which "are similar to young people's here": jobs, housing, and education. In other words, both candidates view economic aid as an
important ingredient in producing a politically moderate, economically viable Egyptian future. Pay the aid now, the argument goes, and reap the rewards
later -- perhaps much later.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it ignores what Egypt's Islamist leaders are doing now. In addition to its restrictive clause on
women's rights, the new constitution draft would deny religious freedom to Shiites and Baha'is. ("Baha'is are a very eccentric group that is far from
Islam," a Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary leader told me earlier this month, as he justified denying Baha'is constitutional protections.) Meanwhile,
Egypt's judicial system continues to prosecute blasphemy, and a television host
critical of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was recently sentenced to four months in prison. Indeed,
Morsi is establishing himself as Egypt's next autocrat: he seized legislative and constitution authority through an
August fiat, and he is
reportedly considering a new emergency law
that would rival Mubarak's.
The trends in Egypt's foreign policy outlook are similarly disturbing. Egypt's military has been slow to respond to terrorism in the unstable Sinai Peninsula, where al-Qaeda may be establishing a foothold, and an attack in August killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers while attempting to breach the Egyptian-Israeli border. Meanwhile, following the September 11 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, President Morsi waited two full days before speaking out, and he was recently caught on camera saying "amen" as an imam prayed for the destruction of Jews. Two weeks ago, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood -- which is effectively Egypt's new ruling party -- called for jihad to capture Jerusalem. And Salafist parties, which represent the
strongest political challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood, have encouraged Egyptian youths to fight
the "jihad" in Syria.
In other words, Egypt is already sliding towards the kind of radicalism that Governor Romney rightly wants to prevent, and this will inhibit the economic
prosperity that President Obama rightly wants for Egypt. This is why the next president should work to break these trends as soon as possible -- before they
American economic aid - currently valued at $250 million - is one tool that can be used towards this end, and our substantial influence in international economic organizations such as the IMF - from which Egypt is seeking a $4.8 billion loan - is another. Specifically, the next administration can condition direct and indirect economic aid to Egypt on promoting tolerance at home and peaceful relations abroad. Simply sending Egypt money with the aim of encouraging economic
development -- and, in turn, political moderation -- won't make it magically happen. If anything, sending that aid will affirm for Egypt's Islamists that
they face no consequences for their radicalism, and prevent them from making tough choices that could force them towards moderation.