CAIRO — Egypt’s 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 world’s most populous Arab nation.
Egypt’s 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 nation’s first democratically 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 on 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 Egypt’s 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 government’s 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 Egypt’s 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 President Obama approved it last year.
The big-ticket items that are 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 Egypt’s military chief, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-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 Egypt’s end of a 1979 peace treaty with Israel — and has avoided using the word “coup.”