US Suspends More Military Aid to Egypt, Arousing Skepticism

The administration of President Barack Obama announced Wednesday it was freezing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Egyptian military pending “credible progress” toward a return to democratic rule.

The State Department said Washington was suspending deliveries of big-ticket weaponry, including tanks, warplanes and attack helicopters, that make up much of the 1.3 billion dollars in military aid it provides Egypt annually.

Officials also said Washington would not provide the Egyptian government with 260 million dollars in cash to use as it sees fit, as it has in the past. Instead, it plans to work with the military-backed regime to bolster programmes in health, education, democracy promotion and private-sector development.

“The military isn’t going to change their fundamental strategy over a few tanks and planes.”
— Robert Springborg

But officials who briefed reporters after the announcement insisted that the administration had still not determined whether the Jul. 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi constituted a “coup”, which under U.S. law would require the complete cutting of military assistance. They stressed that the latest steps were not intended to be “punitive” or to diminish “Egypt’s ability to be a strong security partner of the United States.”

One official characterised the telephone conversation in which Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel informed the regime’s strongman, Defence Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, of the freeze as “very friendly” and said that the fact that the two men had spoken 20 times over the last several months “underscores the importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.”

The State Department said Washington would continue to provide military training in the United States for Egyptian officers and spare parts for major weapons systems already in Cairo’s possession.

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In what some critics called a major loophole, the State Department said the United States will also continue providing aid used for border security and counter-terrorism and for “ensur[ing] security in the Sinai,” the scene of growing anti-government violence since the July coup.

Too little, too late

Most Egypt experts here welcomed the State Department’s Wednesday announcement but complained that it may be a case of “too little too late.”

Al-Sisi appeared unaffected by the cuts and, in fact, emboldened by 12 billion dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, as well as a pledge by Saudi King Abdullah to compensate for aid withheld by Washington. By most accounts, the regime’s repression, including arrests of virtually all of the Brotherhood’s national leaders and thousands of its members, has intensified.

On Wednesday, hours before the State Department announcement, the regime officially dissolved the Brotherhood, while the Court of Appeals in Cairo announced that Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, will be tried on Nov. 4 on charges of inciting violence.

“This sort of step should have been taken more forthrightly earlier on,” Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis office, told IPS in reference to the military cuts. “This is better than nothing at all, but we haven’t really conveyed a clear message.”

Khaled Elgindy, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Institution, complained that Wednesday’s announcement was “sort of a half-measure that doesn’t appear to be part of a broader, overarching American vision for Egypt, or the region.”