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The West weighs its response in Egypt

The abrupt end of the Islamists' rule in Egypt has been welcomed by some and criticized by others. The West has yet to arrive at a uniform response, and Germany's ability to influence the country is limited.

After the overthrow of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, Israeli media were quick to agree that it represented a military coup. But Israel's government is deeply troubled that Washington may come to the same conclusion.

If the US government decides Morsi was ousted in a coup, then the superpower would legally be required to stop its annual military aid of $1.3 billion (995 million euros) to Egypt.

"An American law from 1961 prohibits giving financial support to a military that has deposed a democratically elected government," explained Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.

US influence on Egypt's military

Ever since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, the US government has given money to the Egyptian military. The fear in Jerusalem now is that freezing American aid to Egypt could have negative effects on the stability of that peace treaty and, as such, on Isreal's security.

However, the US government recently announced that F-16 fighter jets will be delivered to Egypt as planned, as early as August. Had the US hesitated on the deliveries or issued conditions concerning new elections before providing the jets, it would have led to frustrations for the Egyptian military, said Perthes, who added that the country is always interested in getting the latest technology.

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi hold a sign as they attend weekly Friday prayers (c) REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Pro-Morsi protests have been staged in Cairo as the power struggle in Egypt continues

Thus far, Washington has avoided taking an unambiguous stance on Morsi's removal. During his final days in office, Morsi's opponents criticized the American ambassador in Cairo for having called the then-government democratically legitimate.

A new tone was struck Wednesday (10.07.2013) when a US State Department spokesperson noted, "Democracy is not just about simply winning the vote at the ballot box." However, the US government also called upon Egypt's military forces to end arbitrary arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Germany calls for Morsi's release

Western governments hope Egypt's military will show restraint in the weeks ahead. Both Berlin and Washington fear that the military might use its power to imprison people en masse or to torture and kill its opponents.

In the days after Morsi was ousted, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke of "a severe setback for democracy," urged non-violence and expressed hope that the situation would return "as soon as possible to being in conformity with the constitution."

"No social group should be excluded," was one of his key messages in light of the military's search for former leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who are being imprisoned.

On Friday (12.07.2013), Westerwelle urged the Egyptian military to release former Morsi, who has been held in custody at the headquarters of the Republican Guard. Every form of political persecution is extremely damaging to the future of Egypt, added Westerwelle's spokesman, Martin Schäfer, in Berlin.

Mohmmed Morsi speaking during a visit to berlin Copyright: imago/Sven Simon

Germany's foreign minister has called for the release of Morsi, who visited Berlin in 2012

Continuing development aid to Egypt

Western foreign policy faces new challenges now that Egypt's military has re-assumed power. Ruprecht Polenz, chair of the German parliament's committee on foreign affairs, told DW that he doubts diplomatic appeals will have an effect on the military's actions.

"The possibilities for wielding influence from outside - and certainly those open to Europe and Germany - are comparatively limited," the politician and member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said. Polenz said he supports the idea of continuing German development projects in Egypt, since they primarily involve improving drinking water as well as providing health care and education.

But, said SWP head Volker Perthes, should the conflict between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which over 50 people have already died, grow more dire then the federal government could "withdraw its economic and development aid or put conditions on its conferral."

Perthes stresses that the Egyptian people should not be punished for the military's ousting of the president, but he also notes that development aid from Germany is not on a scale to be a major source of pressure. The federal government promised Egypt 385 million euros at the end of 2012, but the wealthy Gulf States have already promised a contribution of $5 billion - a sum "totally out of proportion" to what Germany has pledged, Perthes notes.

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