News Column

U.S. Plans to Curb Military Aid to Egypt

October 10, 2013

Abigail Hauslouhner and Anne Gearan

Egypt's military-backed government forged ahead with a sweeping political crackdown against Islamists on Wednesday, even as the United States prepared to curtail some of the nonessential military aid it gives to the Arab world's largest state.

Egypt's Ministry of Social Solidarity announced the official dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed former president Mohamed Morsi, making membership in the Brotherhood effectively illegal.

Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, has been held virtually incommunicado since the July 3 coup that ousted him. He is set to appear in court Nov. 4 on charges of inciting violence against protesters during his time in office, Egypt's Court of Appeals said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official said the Obama administration is preparing to announce curbs on a significant part of the $1.3 billion in military aid it allocates annually to Egypt, an important shift in relations with a key Middle East ally.

Egypt's government declined to comment on news reports of the aid cut, which U.S. officials said is likely to be formally announced within a few days and reflects increasing frustration within the Obama administration that Egypt's military leadership is not moving swiftly enough toward new elections.

"We have not been officially informed of any change," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdellaty. "Until the administration takes its decision and informs us officially, we cannot comment." The large block of aid, historically second only to U.S. annual aid to Israel, is tied to Egypt's decision more than 30 years ago to make peace with the Jewish state.

The money is used by Egypt mostly to order U.S.-made defense equipment, such as Apache helicopters and F-16 warplanes, and has been a bedrock of American security and diplomatic policy in the Middle East.

But political elites in Cairo, where anti-American sentiments and broader xenophobia have surged since the coup, defiantly dismissed the pending cuts in aid as irrelevant. "We do not need this aid," said Mahmoud Afifi, a member of the pro-coup June 30th Front told the semiofficial Youm7 newspaper. "What we do need is more true national independence."

U.S. officials would not provide details Tuesday about how much of the annual $1.2 billion in military aid would be withheld. They said the primary focus will be a hold on the shipment of a dozen AH-64D Apache helicopters from an order placed four years ago.

Provision of crucial spare parts for the extensive U.S. military equipment that Egypt already has and training for the country's armed forces will continue, officials said. They said aid that supports counterterrorism initiatives and Egypt's relations with Israel, including security efforts in the Sinai Peninsula and monitoring along the border with the Gaza Strip, would not be interrupted either.

U.S. officials described the decision on the condition of anonymity. Neither Congress nor Egyptian officials have been formally notified of the decision, they said, and the announcement could be postponed. "We will announce the future of our assistance relationship with Egypt in the coming days," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

Citing President Obama's address to the U.N. General Assembly last month, Hayden said, "As the president made clear at UNGA, that assistance relationship will continue." The Apache shipment that will be placed on hold is part of an $820 million, 12-aircraft order dating from 2009.

The hold, which can be lifted at a later time, is more a symbolic move than a substantive loss for the Egyptians, who have about three dozen Apaches from previous orders. Bedouin residents of Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula say the military has used Apaches in recent weeks to strike homes and smuggling tunnels in a sweeping, and at times, indiscriminate, crackdown in the border zone with Israel and Gaza. Militancy has been on the rise in that area of the Sinai.

Original headline: U.S. plans to curb military assistance to Egypt

Source: National Herald Tribune (Pakistan)

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