The Obama Administration's decision Wednesday to suspend military aid to Egypt has been met with criticism across the political spectrum with U.S. conservatives warning it will bolster the Islamist opposition and beleaguered Egyptians seeing it as too late to promote democracy.
Senior administration officials in a background briefing to reporters confirmed that the U.S. would not provide $260 million in cash assistance now in the pipeline — part of $1.2 billion in annual military aid. Also being embargoed is delivery of F-16s, M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles, and Apaches helicopters. The U.S. had already postponed a joint military exercise. Food and other civilian aid to the mostly impoverished country of 85 million is unaffected.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel — the administration's point man on Egypt — and Gen. Abdel el-Sisi who heads the interim government agreed that counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation would continue.
Critics say the policy sends the wrong signal. "The aid cutoff will be trumpeted by the administration as a sign that it is serious about supporting democracy and upholding the rule of law. But if the goal here is to help end the violence in Egypt or bolster stability in the region, this is the worst mistake President Obama can make," Jonathan Tobin wrote in Commentary.
"The choice in Egypt is not between democracy and the military but between an Islamist dictatorship and secular authoritarians."
The Wall Street Journal cautioned
that "The U.S. is managing to anger nearly everyone in Cairo. The Islamists who demand President Morsi's return and the shrinking band of liberal democrats will see this as continued U.S. support for the generals. The generals get to feel the back of Washington's hand without being given an incentive to change their behavior at home. Israel is also upset, since its peace with Cairo was premised in part on U.S. aid."
Writing in The New Republic,
Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy termed the aid cut-off "a terrible mistake."
He characterized it as "lose-lose" because it "will cost Washington substantial influence within Egypt without achieving any gains for either American geo-strategy or democratic prospects within Egypt."
To ordinary Egyptians, the BBC reported
, American policy looks to be in tatters along with America's "reputation and credibility."
The administration can expect the backing of at least one Republican. Sen. John McCain of Arizona
has long pushed for the aid cut-off.
The Egyptian military has been ruling the country since the July ouster of Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government. He had been freely elected to replace Hosni Mubarak, the country's aged authoritarian ruler, who was forced to step down in February 2011 in the face of massive street protests.
Since July, el-Sisi's security forces have put down pro-Morsi Islamist protests leaving between up to 2,000 dead and many thousands injured.
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