The US State Department has confirmed that portions of the aid that has traditionally flowed annually from the US to Egypt as well as the delivery of important weapons systems will be withheld in response to the overthrow of the country’s first elected president during the summer.
While Washington has stopped short of a complete freeze of aid to its most important ally in the region for the past three decades, the repercussions for relations could be far-reaching. It will also irk Israel which has fiercely argued in favour of keeping all US aid to Egypt intact saying it is a central plank of its own 1979 peace treaty with the country. “People will see it as the United States dropping a friend,” one Israeli official said.
In the immediate aftermath of the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi of the Islamic Brotherhood in July, the US president, Barack Obama, came under pressure to punish Egypt but ultimately took the step only of suspending joint military maneouvres. But he stressed the situation remained under review. With Egypt still in political turmoil and Morsi due to go on trial in four weeks, it is clear that the US decided that was not sufficient.
In all, the US would normally assure Egypt $1.55 billion in support, including $1.3 billion in military aid. No one at the State Department was willing to put a precise dollar amount on what was now to be withheld, however, it will include 10 Apache helicopters at a cost of about $500 million, F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 tank kits and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The US also will also decline to transfer $260 million in cash assistance to the government until “credible progress” is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections, they said.
“The United States continues to support a democratic transition and oppose violence as a means of resolving differences within Egypt," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We will continue to review the decisions regarding our assistance periodically and will continue to work with the interim government to help it move toward our shared goals in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation.”
The move will be seen by some on Capitol Hill who have been pressing for greater punitive steps against the Egyptian regime as still being too timid. “Our law is clear. When there is a military coup, US aid to the government is cut off,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the committee that authorises the funding for Egypt, said in a terse statement. “Rather than encourage reconciliation and restore democracy as it promised, the Egyptian military has reinstituted martial law and cracked down on the Islamic opposition, which has also used violence.”