White House reviewing foreign aid to Egypt as Mohammed Badie is arrested

Written by Max Ehrenfreund

Egyptian security forces arrested Mohammed Badie, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, late Monday in Cairo amid escalating conflict between the Islamist opposition group and the military-supported government. Badie and other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence. Mohamed Morsi, the former Egyptian president whom the Brotherhood supported, lost power in a coup last month. Despite increasing bloodshed across the country, the Brotherhood has officially limited itself to peaceful protests:

A member of the Brotherhood’s political party insisted Tuesday that the group -- which renounced violence decades ago -- would not resort to arms to confront the government’s aggressive campaign to destroy it.

“Our only option is the peaceful method,” Khaled Hanafi, secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, told journalists. “We regret the arrest of Dr. Badie, but we have chosen a path and regardless of the sacrifices, we must continue.” . . .

Nearly 1,000 civilians and dozens of members of the security forces have died since Wednesday, when security forces raided two Islamist protest camps in Cairo in what Human Rights Watch on Monday called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.”

Neither side shows signs of backing down.

Pro-Morsi demonstrators have marched in several areas in defiance of the 7 p.m. national curfew. Those daily protests seemed likely to intensify after the detention of Badie in an apartment in Nasr City, a Brotherhood stronghold in Cairo.

The Egyptian government has been considering banning the Brotherhood. The State Department on Monday cautioned against such a move, saying Egypt needs an inclusive political process to emerge from the crisis. Mary Beth Sheridan

In response to the crisis, the Obama adminstration is considering suspending foreign aid to Egypt, according to the White House:

Officials say the administration has already delivered the majority of aid to Egypt for the current fiscal year. A small amount could still be yanked as a result of the July 3 ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi or the bloody crackdown last week by the military-backed interim government. Those are the funds that are in question.

The choices before the administration include withholding some money, shifting it to other programs or doing nothing. Separately, the administration and Congress will have to decide what to do about next year’s allotment. The review looks at both economic and military aid programs to determine whether any should be suspended before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. . . .

The vast majority of U.S. aid to Egypt is military aid, a legacy of Egypt’s military-backed former government, long ties to the Pentagon and U.S. defense contractors, and Egypt’s 30-year cold peace and military cooperation with Israel.

Some of the other smaller pot of economic development money could be “reprogrammed” and spent for health, education and development projects that benefit Egyptians without directly benefiting their government. This appears to be a likely outcome for some nonmilitary aid called economic support funds, or ESF, which have been held up since before the coup.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry pledged $250­ million in economic aid to Egypt during his only visit there as secretary, in February. The money was supposed to be a reward for economic reforms promised by Morsi, many of which were never carried out before Morsi’s ouster.

Some of that money could be held back as a symbolic rebuke, as could portions of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid. Some $585 million of the 2013 allotment has not been spent.

For now, the administration says it is looking at how various programs align with the “coup law” as part of that review. That law is succinct and clear: If the U.S. government determines that the government of any country has been deposed in a military coup, U.S. aid must be halted.

The Obama administration has decided to make no legal determination about a coup, because doing so would trigger a U.S. ban on military aid to government that took power through a military coup. That decision stands, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Monday. Anne Gearan

Saudi Arabia, however, has promised to compensate the Egyptian government for any aid withdrawn by other powers, presumably including the United States and the European Union:

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, portrayed the struggle in Egypt in almost existential terms Monday, referring to the country as “our second homeland” and emphasizing that Saudi Arabia will never allow it to be destabilized.

“Concerning those who announced stopping their assistance to Egypt or threatening to stop them, the Arab and Islamic nation is rich with its people and capabilities and will provide a helping hand to Egypt,” Faisal told the official Saudi news agency while on a visit to France.

Faisal’s pledge followed a rare foreign policy address on Friday, in which Saudi Arabia’s aging King Abdullah praised the actions of the Egyptian military and accused demonstrators of “terrorism, extremism and sedition.” . . .

That Saudi Arabia is prepared to confront Washington over the crisis is an indicator of how deeply Saudi leaders were unsettled by the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood consolidating its hold over the Arab world’s most populous nation, analysts say.

“It’s not about expansionism,” said Gamal Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University of Cairo. “The Saudis are doing these things out of fear rather than greed.”

But at a time when many Arabs are growing queasy at the high human cost of the crackdown, “this is an enormous gamble for the king,” said Christopher Davidson, professor of Middle East history at Durham University in England. “Saudi Arabia is putting itself in direct confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has broad regional sympathy across the region.” Liz Sly

Max Fisher writes that the Obama administration is pursuing a strategy in Egypt that has already failed elsewhere in the region:

A certain playbook seems to be emerging, one that the administration deployed first in Syria and now perhaps in Egypt, in which the United States values short-term stability, high-level diplomatic relationships and, above all, an aversion to risk.

It’s not hard to see why the Obama administration might have been scared away from its earlier ambition in the Middle East, and not just because of the setbacks in the region. Any White House cares first and foremost about domestic politics, and this administration was punished severely for its leadership on Libya; many of the same political voices that demanded the intervention spent months hammering the White House when, in the foreseeably dangerous post-conflict disorder of Benghazi, a militant group succeeded in attacking the local U.S. diplomatic outpost and killing the ambassador. The White House’s efforts to reach out to Islamist groups in Egypt and Tunisia, meanwhile, received condemnation and criticism at home. Pragmatic, long-view Middle East watchers turned out to represent a fairly narrow slice of the American electorate.

In domestic political terms, which are after all the primary drivers of any political institution, the White House apparently decided that its safest bet in the Middle East was to minimize risk. Any successes would be hard-won and politically unrewarded, it concluded, while any setbacks could become political disasters. The best way to minimize risk is to adhere as closely to the status quo as possible, to make few waves and to keep a lid on any emerging conflicts. Max Fisher

For past coverage of the crisis in Egypt, continue reading here.

 
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