American assistance to Egypt had already been in some jeopardy as a result of the country’s crackdown on U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups in February. The prosecutions of some individuals are still being pursued, although the anti-American cabinet minister who pushed the issue left the government.
The concerns are heard on both sides. Near Tahrir Square — where protesters clashed violently with Egyptian security forces last week as they tried to fight their way to the nearby U.S. Embassy — few people seemed to regard American aid with enthusiasm.
“U.S. aid came to the old regime, and there were a lot of suspicions,” said Ahmed Imam, 38, who runs a shop that sells satellite dishes. “Nothing is for free. This has to be repaid somehow.”
Top advisers to Morsi say they are seeking money wherever they can get it. They promise economic liberalizations of the type often advocated by the International Monetary Fund — from whom they are seeking a $4.8 billion loan to help close a roughly $10 billion funding gap — but they say they want to overhaul Egypt’s economy because it needs it, not because international partners are telling them to do so.
“Having a democratic election is something great,” Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told the U.S. business delegation two days before the protests started. “But that needs to be accompanied by economic growth and development.”
Before the protests, a steady stream of American officials had been in and out of Cairo, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats; Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides; and Obama adviser Michael Froman.
When Corker visited in August, he praised the Egyptian government and spoke in favor of extending aid. Now, he says, he is newly concerned.
“While I believe engagement is our best policy in Egypt and understand the fine line President Morsi is walking in his new position, the initial reaction by him and a very seasoned military with years of involvement with our country is unacceptable,” Corker said in an e-mail Monday. “The timing of this will and should affect our negotiations as we go forward in our relationship with this new government.”
And when Nides was in Cairo before the protests, he said in an interview that the Egyptian government clearly wanted U.S. help and was willing to cooperate to get it. But he included caveats that seem newly relevant.
“We don’t hand people money if they don’t either want it or if they want it for different reasons” from the United States, Nides said.
Birnbaum reported from Cairo.