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U.S. weighs pros, cons of cutting aid to Egypt

Published August 20, 2013 7:46 pm

Politics • Leaders don't want to back a crackdown but see need to maintain ties.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • The Obama administration, undertaking a major review of U.S. relations with Egypt, edged closer to a decision Tuesday about curtailing some of America's $1.5 billion in annual aid after the Egyptian military's crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Top administration officials met at the White House to review the possibility of cutting military or economic aid to Egypt, a longtime U.S. ally and the most populous nation in the Arab world. Some cuts are forthcoming, according to U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tensions in Egypt have soared since the army ousted Morsi, who was the nation's first freely elected president. The July 3 coup followed days of protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi, who hails from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, step down.

The U.S. is in a bind. While it wants to continue aiding Egypt to maintain ties with the military-run government and assert its influence in the region, the Obama administration and lawmakers do not want to appear to be condoning the bloody crackdown.

The administration now is deciding what it wants U.S. engagement in Egypt to look like and what, if any, aid, should be cut. Congress, meanwhile, appears split on whether to suspend the aid, with some saying that would deprive Washington of leverage over those in power in Cairo.

So far, Obama has opted against any swift reaction, insisting it would not serve U.S. national interests to suddenly eliminate funding for operations that cover everything from fighting al-Qaida in the heart of the Middle East and safeguarding the stability of the Suez Canal to halting weapons flow to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and ensuring Israel's security.

The bulk of the U.S. aid money — $1.23 billion — is in the form of military aid.

However, the threat to withhold aid — by either the U.S. or the EU — is weakened by the readiness of wealthy Arab states to prop up Egypt's new military-backed leadership. So far, they have promised $12 billion in new aid.