Paying Off the Egyptian Military
The key to democracy in a troubled nation


Any meaningful economic reform must include a loosening of the military’s grip on the economy. If that does not happen — if the man on the street is still locked out of the job he wants because his uncle isn’t a colonel, if an olive-oil vendor can’t get a license because the military contractor maintains an exclusive monopoly, if entire job-creating industries remain stillborn so as to protect the profits of the military — how long will Egypt’s youth believe that they really won their revolution? It would be nearly impossible for a newly elected government to retain the trust and support of its people if it failed to gain significant concessions from the military on this front.

So what happens if the minimum concession that a new government must demand for its own legitimacy is greater than the maximum the military is willing to cede for its own well-being? The Egyptian people would essentially face two options: (1) water down their demands for democratic rule, leave ultimate authority in the hands of the military, and let the spirit of the revolution wither; or (2) directly confront the military and remove it from power — most likely under the leadership of a more radical organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which today is the only entity in Egypt capable of mounting a large-scale organized resistance to military force.

Avoiding these outcomes — dictatorship, civil war, theocracy — should be a top priority for the United States and its allies. The good news is that we can do something about it. The confrontation in question is driven by material goods and concrete prizes, not blind ideology or ethno-religious hatred. It is entirely conceivable that it could be papered over with a simple payoff to the military. Step one: Deploy an army of accountants and economists to figure out all the ways the military has injected itself into Egyptian economic life and begin tallying up the bill. Step two: Contribute what is needed to balance out the golden-parachute equation: for instance, an additional aid package to the military to keep it sufficiently fat and happy to cede its grip over the economy to a newly elected government.

More than any grand gesture of moral support or masterly manipulation of internal politics, this simple act of mediation and, yes, bribery may well be the most effective step the United States could take to aid in the New Egypt’s democratic rebirth.

Daniel Krauthammer is a writer in Los Angeles. He holds a master’s degree in financial economics from Oxford University.