The Egyptian government has reacted angrily to a decision by the White House to suspend arms shipments and more than $250 million in annual aid as a result of a wave of deadly crackdowns against Islamists.
This week Washington announced it was freezing part of the aid package which for decades has cemented relations between the two countries and been key to America’s strategy of bolstering Israeli security.
Largely in reaction to the bloody crackdown against members of the Muslim Brotherhood – during which more than 1,000 civilians have been killed by the security services since July – US officials said they would withhold deliveries of tanks, helicopters, missiles and fighter jets.
More than $250 million in cash aid for government programmes would also be suspended, they said, although military aid for counter terrorism and security in the troubled north Sinai Peninsula would continue.
Speaking to a private radio station yesterday, a foreign ministry spokesman said that the decision to suspend aid “was wrong”.
“Egypt will not surrender to American pressure and is continuing its path towards democracy as set by the roadmap," said Badr Abdelatty. He added that Washington’s move "posed serious questions around the United States' readiness to provide stable strategic support for Egypt's security programmes".
The decision to freeze the aid programme – although affecting only part of the overall $1.5 billion aid package granted each year to Egypt from Washington – is nevertheless significant.
Increasingly America has becoming a whipping boy for Egyptian nationalists, some of whom have accused Barack Obama of colluding with the now-ostracised Muslim Brotherhood.
Following the popular coup which ousted former President Mohamed Morsi from power, Saudi Arabia stepped in to offer the Egyptian government a $5 billion aid package to help ease the economic crisis which had developed during two and a half years of continuing unrest.
According to some analysts, Washington’s decision will mean other countries will emerge to vie for influence as relations with Egypt become ever more strained.
“The last thing America needs to be doing now is backing away,” said Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based expert on Middle East security.
“A slap on the hand doesn’t work in Egypt,” he added. “It will be resented.”
Western officials have been wavering over how to respond to the authoritarian behaviour of Egypt’s regime since Mohamed Morsi was toppled from power on 3 July.
One British diplomatic source told The Independent that officials had deliberately cooled their ties with the Egyptian military to “let them know how we feel” about the recent crackdowns.
Anthony Cordesman, from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the suspension of aid would have little practical impact on Egypt’s military, but added: “The whole idea that you can compel a country like Egypt to change its behaviour from outside in the middle of a massive political crisis is obviously something that’s an illusion.”