Home inContext Egypt-U.S. Relations Strained Following Aid Cuts

Egypt-U.S. Relations Strained Following Aid Cuts

Hannah Schaeffer

Egypt’s foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, said in remarks Wednesday that relations between Egypt and U.S. are now in “turmoil” following Washington’s decision to suspend military aid. The U.S. State Department announced the decision to curtail military aid and some economic support aid to Cairo last week, although the Obama administration stressed it was not trying to sever ties with its long standing ally.

In announcing the decision, U.S. reiterated its displeasure at the Egyptian military’s violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after the July 3 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi. The cut will specifically withhold the delivery of helicopters, missiles, tank parts, and airplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget. Some assistance will remain untouched, including aid for counterterrorism programs, health care, education and businesses in Egypt. The announcement emphasized that cuts are meant to be temporary in the hopes that Egyptian military will take steps toward restoring democracy.

Egyptian soldiers stand guard in front of a government building in Cairo. (Photo: EPA)

American officials recognized the possibility that military cuts could jeopardize security interests in Egypt, notably counterterrorism efforts and the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Israeli officials told Washington it was making a mistake in cutting aid to Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week that “peace was premised on American aid to Egypt.” Israel and Egypt increasingly share security concerns about jihadists in the Sinai and Israel has has supported the Egyptian military in its campaign there.

Regardless of U.S. intentions to maintain good relations with the Egyptian military, Foreign Minister Fahmy criticized the U.S. decision in his remarks to Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper, declaring relations in a delicate state of turmoil and warned that the whole Middle East could suffer. He suggested that Egypt could turn to Washington’s rivals, including Russia, for closer cooperation. This would reverse 40 years of American supremacy following the ouster of the Russians from Egypt by Anwar Sadat after the Yom Kippur War.

For some Egyptians, the U.S. military cuts have prompted a wave of nationalism and growing momentum for the unofficial presidential campaign of General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Al-Sissi is credited with leading the overthrow of the elected, but increasingly authoritarian, Morsi in July. Organizers of al-Sissi’s campaign claim that more than 9 million people have signed a petition calling for the General to become Egypt’s next elected president. Sissi’s supporters compare him to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader who overthrew the last Egyptian king, waged war against Western powers and Israel, and remains a national hero.