Egypt yesterday criticized the US’ decision to halt some aid to the army-backed government following a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that has plunged the country into a violent political crisis.
Washington faces a dilemma in dealing with a major regional ally that controls the strategic Suez Canal and borders Israel, but whose army overthrew the first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, after mass protests against his rule.
It said on Wednesday it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles, as well as US$260 million in cash aid, but left some other aid program intact.
The US position highlights the dilemma and also exposes differences with key Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, which had welcomed Morsi’s removal and has lavished extensive 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.
“The decision was wrong. Egypt will not surrender to American pressure and is continuing its path towards democracy as set by the roadmap,” Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told a private Egyptian radio station Radio FM.
Abdelatty later said in a statement the decision “posed serious questions around the United States’ readiness to provide stable strategic support for Egypt’s security programs.”
The decision was made pending progress on democracy and human rights, but the US Department of State said it would continue military support for counterterrorism, counterproliferation and security in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders US ally Israel. It will also continue to provide funding in areas such as education, health and private-sector development.
The private, anti-Islamist-leaning Tahrir newspaper was even bolder in its criticism, with a headline proclaiming: “Let the American aid go to hell.”
The army ousted Morsi in July, installed an interim government and presented a political “roadmap” it promised would lead to fair elections.
The Brotherhood refuses to work with the military, which it says staged a coup and sabotaged Egypt’s democratic gains after a revolt toppled then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egypt’s security forces have cracked down hard on the Brotherhood since Morsi’s overthrow, crushing two pro-Morsi protest camps, killing hundreds, and then arresting scores from the group, including much of the senior leadership.
Morsi himself has been held in a secret location since his ouster. He is due to face trial on Nov. 4 on charges of inciting violence, in a move that is likely to further inflame tensions between the army and the Brotherhood.
The US decision demonstrated its unhappiness with Egypt’s path since Morsi was ousted.
In the latest violence, pro-Morsi supporters clashed with security forces and political opponents on Sunday, with state media reporting 57 people dead.
Raising the specter of more bloodshed, the political wing of the now-banned Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party, called for a “million-man march” today to head toward Tahrir, cradle of the demonstrations that overthrew Mubarak.
Besides the political crisis that has decimated tourism and investment in the most populous Arab state, Egypt is witnessing a wave of Islamist militant attacks against security forces that has occasionally spilled over beyond the Sinai region.