The slaughter of 900 civilian demonstrators in Egypt over the past week is sad — the army shot into crowds of protesters — but it’s a problem for Egypt to sort out, right?

Perhaps not. Perhaps some other countries need to look at their involvement.

Western observers have rightly criticised the military crackdown on civilian pro-Morsi protesters. This follows some observers’ similar unease over the military coup that ousted him from power a month ago.

Both these concerns hark to the central role that the military plays in Egyptian politics and society. And one of the key reasons the Egyptian military is so powerful is because it receives US$1.2 billion in aid every year from the American government, as it has for 30 years.

This aid plays no role in building democracy in Egypt. It is calculated to boost Egypt’s military strength while helping American arms producers (the aid is largely delivered through in-kind donations of military hardware). It bought Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and today gives American ships the right to “cut the line” at the crowded Suez Canal.

But it has also strengthened and provided tacit endorsement to an institution that sees itself as above democracy, which ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president and last week murdered his supporters.

The bulk of European Union aid to Egypt is humanitarian in nature, and European leaders are considering whether this needs to be cut. If the White House is, as Obama says, concerned about recent events in Egypt, it should examine its own role in this situation.

And Australia, as a key US ally which provides useful support to the US on the UN security council, should bear in mind the issue of aid to the Egyptian military.

Peter Fray

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