Analysts say US aid halt will have limited impact

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 10 Oct 2013

Egyptian military source says US decision to halt aid 'comes as no surprise'; analysts dismiss long-term impact of cuts

Big military aid
Egyptian army trucks carrying tanks and vehicles (Photo: Reuters)

In an unprecedented move, Washington announced on Wednesday that it has halted deliveries of large-scale military systems, as well as $260 million in cash aid to the Egyptian military, amid concerns over the country's democratic transition and mounting violence following the popularly-backed military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

An Egyptian military source speaking on the condition of anonymity said the decision came as no surprise and was even expected. He added that US defence secretary Chuck Hagel likely alluded to potential cuts several times in his calls with Egypt army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Alaa Ezz El-Din, head of the Military Studies Centre, told Ahram Online that the decision to halt aid should be understood as part of a US strategy to appear "as a guardian of democracy in the world."

US pressure on the Egyptian government is an attempt to push Egypt "in this direction," Ezz El-Din argued, adding however that the American administration had an "incomplete" vision of the situation in Egypt.

According to Ezz El-Din, the Egyptian armed forces only took action in July because democracy was a popular demand and the ousted regime refused to address that demand.

He added that Egypt had been expecting a much worse reaction from the US.

Ezz El-Din acknowledged that the halt will have a negative impact. However, he believes this impact will be "limited," as "there are more important US funds still available." Ezz El-Din emphasised that the Egyptian army's fighting capabilities would not be affected.

Ezz El-Din said the delay of some training and military exercises would not be a problem. He underlined that because the US fiscal year does not begin until the start of 2014, Egypt will have already accomplished much of its transitional roadmap when the question of aid arrives. This time to complete the transition, Ezz El-Din said, will "allow access" to halted military aid.

Following Morsi's ouster, Egypt's interim government initiated a transitional roadmap to guide the country until presidential elections are held. As part of the roadmap, a 50-member representative committee is currently amending the now-suspended 2012 constitution.

Ezz El-Din believes it is in the US' best interests to maintain good relations with Egypt, especially as it concerns militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula.

Security personnel have come under increasing attack in the restive peninsula, where local inhabitants complain of government neglect and marginalisation.  Egypt's army has since launched a crackdown on the insurgents.

Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, told Ahram Online that the US decision will have an impact on its relationship with Egypt.

However, Soltan said the real question was whether or not the decision to cut aid will affect the political battle within Egypt, which he calls "a fight for existence."

Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt's political life has been deeply polorised between supporters of the former leader and followers of the interim authorities. As a result of the political deadlock, hundreds have died in street clashes and thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested.

The US and Egypt will attempt to avoid "further deterioration" in their relationship, Soltan added.

Israeli defence minister Gilad Erdan said in a broadcasted interview that Israel hopes the US decision will not impact Egyptian-Israeli relations. Part of US military aid to Egypt is conditioned by the 1978 Camp David accords promising communication and cooperation between the two neighbours.

The United States provides nearly $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt, mainly in the form of military assistance.

The US began to review its aid arrangement with Egypt after an August security crackdown on Morsi supporters left hundreds of protestors dead.

The freeze, which the US says is not meant to be permanent, would remain in effect "pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically-elected civilian government through free and fair elections," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. The US is halting shipments of Apache helicopters, missiles, fighter jets and tank parts, officials have reported.

On 15 August, the US cancelled a series of joint military exercises with Egypt. A month earlier, Washington had halted deliveries of four F-16 fighter jets.

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