CAIRO – Egypts military-backed government forged ahead with a sweeping political crackdown against Islamists on Wednesday, even as the United States prepared to withhold some of the military aid it gives to the worlds most populous Arab nation.
Egypts Ministry of Social Solidarity announced the effective dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed former president Mohamed Morsi.
Meanwhile, court authorities said Morsi – the nations first democratically elected leader – will stand trial Nov. 4 on charges of inciting violence against protesters. He has been held virtually incommunicado since the July 3 coup that ousted him.
The announcements by Egyptian authorities came a day after a senior U.S. official said the Obama administration would soon curtail part of the $1.3 billion in military aid it allocates annually to Egypt.
U.S. officials Wednesday sought to characterize the suspension of some forms of aid as temporary and said they aspire to maintain a robust military and diplomatic partnership with Egypt.
Besides F-16 fighter jets, whose delivery was suspended in July, Washington will not be sending Apache helicopters, M1 tanks or Harpoon missiles under existing contracts, officials told reporters in a conference call.
In addition, $260 million in cash payment promised to Egypts previous government will continue to be suspended. The money was to go for debt relief and general expenses, and been held up over the Morsi governments failure to come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on economic reforms.
This is not meant to be permanent, one senior official said during the call, which was conducted on the condition of anonymity for unspecified reasons. This is meant to be continuously reviewed.
The delayed shipments are unlikely to affect Egypts military prowess. Egypt has about three dozen Apache helicopters and an estimated 1,000 M1 tanks. Provision of spare parts and other maintenance equipment to keep them running are considered far more important than adding to the arsenal. The Harpoon missiles are a sea-launch version that provides offensive naval capability; their transfer had been held up for a number of years before Obama gave approval last year.
The big-ticket items not being delivered are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but administration officials said they hope the pipeline of those items will start flowing once Egyptian officials heed calls to govern in an inclusive, democratic way.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egypts military chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, about the new measures during a call Wednesday afternoon that officials described as friendly.
The U.S. government is officially barred from providing aid to any country whose elected government is overthrown in a military coup. But the Obama administration has been reluctant to damage ties with the powerful Egyptian military, which it counts on to maintain Egypts end of a 1979 peace treaty with Israel – and has carefully avoided using the word coup.
Egypts government declined to comment Wednesday on the U.S. decision.
We have not been officially informed of any change, Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said. Until the administration takes its decision and informs us officially, we cannot comment.
But political elites in Cairo, where anti-American sentiments and broader xenophobia have surged since the coup, dismissed the pending curtailment as irrelevant.
We do not need this aid, Mahmoud Afifi, a member of the pro-coup June 30th Front told the semiofficial Youm7 newspaper. What we do need is more true national independence.
Some members of Congress expressed alarm Wednesday that they had not been notified in advance of the changes to U.S. aid.
I am disappointed that the Administration is planning to partially suspend military aid to Egypt, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.