U.S. Freezes A Portion Of Military Aid To Egypt

The U.S. sends a mostly weak signal to the Egyptian military.

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Months after the coup that led to the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, the United States has frozen some aid to the Egyptian military:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a modest and temporary freeze on military assistance to Egypt, even as American officials emphasized their desire to avoid rupturing a security relationship that stretches back more than three decades.

To signal its displeasure at the Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, officials said, the United States would withhold the delivery of several big-ticket items, including Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts and F-16 warplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget.

But in a sign of how the administration is balancing its interests, senior officials said the United States would continue aid for counterterrorism programs as well as for Egypt’s efforts to protect its borders and secure Sinai, which has become a haven for extremists.

In announcing the decision, administration officials reiterated that the Egyptian military’s brutal repression of supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, was not acceptable. But in explaining their specific steps, American officials sounded as if they were reaffirming a valuable relationship rather than delivering a rebuke.

“This is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite,” a senior administration official said. “It is meant to be continually reviewed.” Still, the official added, “it’s fair to say that holding up hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance is a pretty clear message.”

Among the assistance that will be untouched, officials said, are programs to train and educate Egyptian military officials in the United States; the delivery of spare parts for many American-supplied weapons; and aid for health care, education and the promotion of business in Egypt.

The administration conveyed the news in a phone call on Wednesday from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the army chief who led the ouster of Mr. Morsi. American officials portrayed the phone call as friendly.

The administration also continued to take the position that it was not obligated to classify Mr. Morsi’s ouster as a coup — a judgment that could have required a wholesale suspension in aid. The aid that the administration is holding back, officials said, could be restored if Egypt’s interim leaders take steps toward restoring democracy.

The announcement laid bare the underlying calculations that have shaped the United States’ effort to respond to the upheaval in Egypt ever since the crackdown began in July, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.

American officials have long doubted that cutting back military aid would have any effect on the behavior of Egypt’s military-backed government. The United States also does not want to jeopardize security interests in Egypt, notably counterterrorism efforts, the stability of the Sinai Peninsula and the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Critics on Capitol Hill, however, said the administration was failing to send a signal to leaders who seized power in a coup, imposed martial law and carried out a systematic repression of the Islamist opposition.

“The administration is trying to have it both ways, by suspending some aid but continuing other aid,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who is chairman of the subcommittee that appropriates aid to Egypt. “By doing that, the message is muddled.”

Some experts said the moves were meant to be more symbolic than substantive.

“This is not a signal to the generals to get their act together,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It is an effort by the administration to say, ‘You did what you did, and we want to keep working with you, but there is some price to be paid for not listening to us.’ ”

“At the end of day,” she added, “it is a pretty symbolic price.”

That’s certainly how it seems. If the U.S. truly wanted to punish the Egyptian military,  or send a clear an unmistakable signal, then the aid cutback could have been far more extensive. The fact that the Administration didn’t do that both backs up the idea that this is largely symbolic, and makes it clear that the U.S. still wishes to ensure that we have influence within the Egyptian military as they begin what they promise is a transition to a civilian-led government.

Throughout all of this, of course, it’s worth noting that American aid may not have the same influence on the military that it once did. According to many reports, the Egyptian military has been receiving increased aid from Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf nations, in no small part because of the actions the military has taken against the Muslim Brotherhood. Given that, the military may feel more free to ignore American complaints about human rights abuses. What that means for the future of Egypt only time will tell.

FILED UNDER: General,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    Well, you could look at this as nothing. Or you could look at it as the 1st move. Putting the Egyptian military on notice that they are risking more if they don’t behave.

    Would you rather our government went straight to a total halt to the aid? Do you think that’s the best policy?

    In a perfect… well, ok, not perfect but more perfect to me… world, I’d prefer we weren’t providing any aid to Egypt. However, that requires either: a) no aid to Israel either (I would prefer this); or b) breaking a decades-long deal that helped make peace between Israel and Egypt. I’d prefer to not break the deal by ending both bits of aid (this is totally unrealistic, of course!).

    So what we have here is a cautious half-measure (not even half). How about we see how the Egyptian military responds before we decide it’s futile?

  2. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I just hope that the Egyptian military doesn’t have to go ahead and barrycade the Pyramids because of the shortfall.