WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an expected move intended to express disapproval of Egypt’s military-backed government, the U.S. announced it would withhold military and economic aid to Egypt. The decision comes months after the country’s military toppled its first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi and led a bloody crackdown on his supporters.
“We have decided to maintain our relationship with the Egyptian government, while recalibrating our assistance to Egypt to best advance our interests,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Of the $1.55 billion in aid that the U.S. provides to Egypt each year, Washington has decided to withhold a $260 million cash transfer, a $300 million loan guarantee, and the delivery of hundreds of millions dollars’ worth of military equipment such as F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, and Harpoon missiles.
Although the decision has been criticized from all sides – in some cases, for not being severe enough and in others, for being too severe, the Obama administration has defended its handling of the thorny issue as the smartest possible maneuver, given the circumstances. Since Egypt is a key ally for several reasons – it has control of the strategic Suez Canal and has a peace treaty with neighboring Israel, Washington is looking for a way to defend democratic principles while maintaining its leverage in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington would consider resuming the aid if credible progress is made toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government. He quickly added, however, that the decision is by no means a severing of ties with the Egyptian government since it would continue to receive military support for counter-terrorism operations and funding for education, health and private sector development.
Most critics believe that the decision sends mixed messages to the Egyptian government. “The administration is trying to have it both ways, by suspending some aid but continuing other aid. By doing that, the message is muddled,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.)
Sharanbir Grewal, guest writer of the Washington Post, however, notes that by suspending the delivery of costly military systems and keeping other assistance such as strategic counterterrorism cooperation intact, the U.S. has actually withheld what is most important to the Egyptian military and least important to U.S. interests.
“While the administration seeks to reprimand the Egyptian military for the 1,000 people reported killed since the coup, it still extends a hand to recalibrate the close relationship. And that demonstrates very clever balancing of the multiple U.S. interests at stake in Egypt,” he said.
Meanwhile, violence continues in the embattled state, with 57 people dead in a clash between pro-Morsi supporters and security forces joined by political opponents. Further chaos is foreseen as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, called for a “million-man march” in Cairo to head towards Tahrir Square, where the demonstrations that overthrew Mubarak were held.
– Nayomi Chibana
Sources: Politico, Reuters, Washington Post
Photo: Underground Polotics