Thursday, October 10, 2013

Egypt: US Slow to Suspend Foreign Aid, Such Action Should Have Been Made Months Ago

According to Reuters, Egypt criticized on Thursday (October 10) a US decision to curtail military and economic aid to Cairo after a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, although Washington stressed it was not severing ties with its long-standing ally.

Washington said on Wednesday (October 9) that it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles to Cairo as well as $260 million in cash aid, but left some other aid programs intact.

Contentiously, the army-backed government insisted Egypt would not bow to US pressure, saying it found the decision strange at a time when the country was "facing a war against terrorism."

Yet, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would consider resuming some of the aid "on a basis of performance" in following the interim government's "roadmap" that promises to lead to fair elections.

Washington no doubt is walking a bit of tightrope in dealing with its major Middle Eastern ally: Egypt controls the strategic Suez Canal and has a peace treaty with neighboring Israel, but its army overthrew in July the first freely-elected president, Islamist Mohamed Morsi, after mass protests against his rule.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty also reacted with defiance. "The decision was wrong. Egypt will not surrender to American pressure and is continuing its path towards democracy as set by the road map," he emphasized. 

Nevertheless,  Abdelatty back-tracked by saying that Egypt was "keen on continuing good relations with the United States." That being said, the US position exposes differences with its Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia, which had welcomed Morsi's removal and has lavished financial support to the new government. It also raises the question of where Egypt, the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, could now turn for more military aid.

COMMENT: I applaud the US announcement even though the US should have withdrawn substantial amounts of aid to Egypt months ago when it became clear that Morsi was blowing off US suggestions to temper its anti-US rhetoric.

The US should have withdrawn significant amounts of aid months ago when then President Morsi first exhibited his anti-US sentiments, particularly considering  that the US is a debtor nation second to none.

Credit ratings agency Fitch said the US decision had a "limited overall impact on Egypt's external finances" and was not significant for its debt profile.

Washington said military support would continue for counter terrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai, which borders Israel. It will also provide funding in areas such as education, health and private sector development.

Egypt's private, anti-Islamist leaning Tahrir newspaper was bolder in its criticism, with a headline proclaiming, "Let the American aid go to hell."

Morsi has been held in a secret location since his overthrow. He is due to face trial on November 4 on charges of inciting violence, in a move that is likely to further inflame tensions between the army and the Brotherhood.