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Analysts Suggest Aid To Egypt Is Key To Free Elections

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, says it would be "foolhardy" for the U.S. to make any quick judgments about cutting military aid to countries like Egypt. Some political analysts agree. They say maintaining the flow of aid to Egypt actually could promote a move toward democracy.

U.S. legislators have been debating in recent weeks whether to cut aid to Egypt, both as a result of the political unrest there and as part of slashing foreign military aid worldwide in an effort to contain the ballooning U.S. deficit.

But Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned the House Armed Services Committee that any swift changes in funding for overseas militaries, specifically for Egypt, should be carefully made.

"Changes to those relationships in either aid or assistance ought to be considered only with an abundance of caution and a thorough appreciation for the long view, rather than in the flush of public passion and the urgency to save a buck," he said.

Political researcher and analyst Hein Goemans says that what Admiral Mullen told the congressional committee is right. Goemans says he would tell them this: "You’re playing with fire. This is one of the few tools that you have in order to influence behavior. You should not waste it too early because then you might regret you can’t use it later on. Don’t burn your bridges."

Egypt receives $1.3 billion in aid each year from the United States. Political researcher and analyst Nikolay Marinov says this international aid could play an important role in Egypt's future. "The more aid dependent the country, the faster it moves to elections, and most of the time it’s actually under 5 years and/or 3 years," Marinov said.

Marinov, an assistant professor at Yale University, and Goemans, an associate professor at the University of Rochester, have partnered to study military coups worldwide. In their research, they have found that in the post-Cold War society, international aid has led to free elections in three out of every four countries that have had military takeovers.

Marinov says that in addition to heavily relying on aid, Egypt has several other local factors that could push it toward a democratic state.

"What is the case in Egypt that we can see is that they have been experiencing economic development, there is a burgeoning middle class, sort of a young elite that is educated, etc. All these in principle are good for democracy," Marinov said.

His colleague, Goemans, says the amount of military aid Egypt receives will be the most powerful tool in driving leaders to hold elections sometime in the foreseeable future. "I can’t guarantee you that the Egyptian military will have a free and fair election, but I think there is a very good chance, better than a three in four chance, that they will," Goemans said.

Egypt's military rulers pledged earlier this week to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections within in six months. The country's Supreme Armed Forces Council said it is not seeking power and that it has confidence in the people.