A supporter of Egypt’s army takes a photo with his mobile phone as he poses with a poster of Army Chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in the garden of Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday.
CAIRO: Egypt criticised yesterday 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.
The army-backed government insisted Egypt would not bow to US pressure, with the cabinet saying it found the decision strange at a time when the country was “facing a war against terrorism”.
However, U.S. 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 “road map” that promises to lead to fair elections.
Washington faces a dilemma in dealing with its major regional ally; Egypt controls the strategic Suez Canal and has a peace treaty with neighbouring Israel but its army overthrew in July the first freely-elected president, Islamist Mohammed Mursi, after mass protests against his rule.
In some of the worst civilian violence in modern Egyptian history, security forces crushed protests by Mursi’s supporters. However, militant Islamists, who have been attacking Egyptian forces in the Sinai peninsula for some time, have begun staging assaults in or near major cities including Cairo.
The United States said on Wednesday that it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles to Cairo as well as $260m in cash aid, but left some other aid programmes intact. The Egyptian cabinet criticised the decision. “The government expressed the strangeness of the decision which was issued at such a vital time during which Egypt is facing a war against terrorism,” it said.
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 roadmap,” he told the Radio FM station.
However, he also said Egypt was “keen on continuing good relations with the United States”. The US position exposes differences with Saudi Arabia, which had welcomed Mursi’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.
Kerry said Washington wanted to make certain the road map to new elections remained a primary goal of the interim government. “The interim government understands very well our commitment to the success of this government... and by no means is this a withdrawal from our relationship or a severing of our serious commitment to helping the government,” he told reporters on a visit to Malaysia.
Washington has long provided Egypt with about $1.55bn in annual aid, including $1.3bn for the military. An Egyptian military source declined to give details on what effect the decision could have on military hardware as disclosing such information would harm national security.
The US State Department has said it would continue military support for counter terrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai, which borders Israel. It will also continue to 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”.Reuters