Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Money talks

Threats to cut US military aid to Egypt are an annual occurrence. Is there anything new this time round, asks Amirah Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

US politicians have once again seized upon a domestic spending bill in an attempt to tighten control on how Egypt uses the $1.3 billion in military aid it receives from Washington.

Last week five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — offered separate amendments relating to the aid payments to a fast-track spending measure that seeks to avert a government shutdown. They expressed concern about Egypt’s stability, the future policies of its Islamist government and its relations with Israel.

“In the 21st century America’s foreign assistance must reflect our values as well as our interests,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as he introduced one of the amendments.

Republican senators Rubio, John McCain, James Inhofe, and Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy insist they are not pushing to cut the aid.

“Cutting off Egyptian aid would be very damaging to US policy interests in the Middle East,” said McCain.

Leahy and McCain are seeking to ensure that military aid is directed towards counter-terrorism, border security and special operations and is not used to buy major defence equipment such as F-16 fighter jets or M1 tanks while Rubio is seeking to halt any additional foreign military financing contracts until Egypt begins to enact economic reforms and shows greater commitment to protecting human rights.

But why use military aid as a tool to pressure Egypt’s politicians over human rights and economic reform? Washington, after all, approved $250 million in budget aid to the Egyptian government earlier this month. Though US officials said at the time that President Mohamed Morsi had “promised” to undertake the painful economic reforms necessary to secure an International Monetary Fund loan there was no mention at all of human rights.

“This can easily be interpreted as support for the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says retired general and military expert Adel Fouda. “The focus on military aid can equally easily be seen as a sign of Washington’s dissatisfaction with the Egyptian army’s possible role in the current political struggle.”

“The US has allied its interests with Egypt’s Islamist factions,” says Fouda. When there are growing calls from sections of the public and some political forces for the army to once again take over the running of the country, and at a time when the opposition has threatened to boycott parliamentary elections, the US perceives those interests as being under threat.

Fouda points to the recent truce between Hamas and Israel, achieved through the Muslim Brotherhood’s auspices, as an example of how Washington’s interests are now tied to the group. “Egypt’s dependency on US aid acted as an incentive for the Egyptian government to press the terms of peace agreement. Egypt continues to play an important role in regional peace and stability,” says Fouda. “But strong ties between the American and Egyptian militaries allow the US all kinds of benefits. US Navy warships, for instance, get expedited passage through the Suez Canal.”

US congressmen, points out Amr El-Shobaki, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, regularly adopt aggressive stands against Egypt. “They usually respond to any political development they deem unfavourable with threats to cut military aid. When the political dispute is over the threats disappear.”

Reducing military aid, points out El-Shobaki, is in any case the prerogative of the US president who has the final say in decisions concerning national security. “The American president can always make exceptions even if the Congress adopts the bill.”

The weight of opinion within the US administration is likely to agree with El-Shobaki’s assertion that building the Egyptian military’s capabilities to secure its borders is one of Washington’s key goals in the region.

According to military sources, the $1.3 billion in US aid goes towards strengthening Egyptian forces and finances training. “Egypt also receives hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of excess military hardware annually from the Pentagon. The aid has included M1A1 tanks and F16 fighter jets.”

Arms deals secured through the military aid programme, stresses retired General Hossam Sweilam, feed the US arms industry. In addition, he says, “the co-production programme of the M1A1 Abrams Battle tank is one of the cornerstones of US military assistance.”

“Egypt has already acquired 1,200 of the tanks.”

Two months ago Egypt began to take delivery of 20 advanced F-16C/D fighter aircraft, joining the 240 Egypt has already purchased. Egypt is the first Arab country to buy F-16s.

“The United States has also made public its supplies of Boeing CH-47D CHINOOK transport helicopters, Northrop Grumman Corp E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning command and control aircraft and Patriot air-defence systems built by Lockheed and Raytheon. This represents considerable business for its weapons industry,” says Sweilam.

In March 2012 US lawmakers made similar noises about cutting military aid to Egypt. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was in rule, and the threats coincided with a three-month crackdown on pro-democracy groups. The prosecutor-general ordered the arrest of American, German and Egyptian activists. At the peak of the crisis the son of a congressman took refuge in the US embassy. Charges were temporarily dropped to allow foreigners to leave. Yet despite concerns remaining about human rights moves to reduce military aid ended.


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