Washington is planning to withhold a large part of the massive military aid it gives Egypt to signal displeasure with the Arab nation’s political direction.
The US has been considering such a move since the military deposed Egypt’s first democratically elected leader in July. It would be a dramatic shift for President Barack Obama’s administration, which has declined to label president Mohamed Morsi’s removal a coup and has argued that it was in US interests to keep aid flowing.
The move follows a violent weekend in Egypt, as dozens of people were killed in clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters.
While the exact amount to be suspended was up to Mr Obama, US security aides have recommended it include all aid to Egypt’s army except for money that supports security in the volatile Sinai Peninsula and along Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. Counter-terrorism funding may also continue.
Mr Obama’s top national security advisers recommended aid be cut off in late August, and he had been expected to announce it last month. But the announcement got sidetracked by the debate over whether to launch military strikes against Syria, US officials said yesterday.
The US provides Egypt with $1.5 billion (£940 million) a year in aid, $1.3bn of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some goes to the government and some to other groups. Only the money that goes to the government would be suspended.
In Cairo, the foreign ministry said it had not received any official word from Washington on the issue.
“The relationship between Egypt and the US is one of partnership, and not one of donor and recipient,” said ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty.
Egypt has other allies who may be able to fill the financial void. Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf Arab partners have been a vital financial lifeline for Egypt’s new government, pledging at least $12bn so far and aiding in regional crackdowns on Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. On Monday, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip in a sign of the importance of the Gulf aid and political backing.
Egypt’s military chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi described Egypt’s relations with the US as “strategic” and founded on mutual interests, but cautioned that his country would not tolerate pressure, “whether through actions or hints”.
In excerpts from an interview published yesterday by Cairo daily Al-Masry al-Youm, Gen el-Sissi – who led the coup that removed Mr Morsi – said: “We need to be clear here and say they (the US) are keen on continuing the aid and that it is not cut off. They are trying to take measures that conform with the spirit of the law and deal with what happened in Egypt as the outcome of popular will.”