WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is planning to suspend a substantial portion of US military aid to Egypt, several administration officials said Tuesday, after summer’s deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the recent surge in violence there.
The decision, which is expected to be announced in the coming days, will hold up the delivery of several types of military hardware to the Egyptian military, these officials said, including tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. But it will not affect aid for counterterrorism operations or for border security involving the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza.
The administration’s move follows a review that began in August after days of bloody attacks on supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, which left hundreds of people dead. The administration had already frozen the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled joint exercises with the Egyptian Army.
The United States will also suspend nonmilitary aid that flows directly to the government, but not support for other activities like education or hospitals, the officials said. The decision, which was first reported Tuesday by CNN, does not amount to an across-the-board cutoff of aid to the Egyptian government, officials said. But they said Obama felt compelled to take stronger action, especially after street clashes erupted in several Egyptian cities last Sunday, in which more than 50 people were killed.
Under the administration’s plan, officials said, military aid could be restored if Egypt’s government showed signs of restoring democratic institutions.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said: “Reports that we are halting all military assistance to Egypt are false. We will announce the future of our assistance program with Egypt in the coming days.”
Obama, she noted, said at the UN General Assembly last month that the “assistance relationship will continue.”
In his speech, however, Obama was critical of Egypt’s military-backed government and warned that the delivery of US military hardware could be affected if the government did not take steps to put the country on the path to a democratic transition.
While acknowledging that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government had lost the support of a large part of the Egyptian public before his ouster by the military in July, Obama said the interim government had “made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy.”
Human rights advocates said they hoped Obama would make the decision as a way to stand firmly against the repression in Cairo.
Of the $1.55 billion in total assistance, $1.3 billion is military and $250 million is economic. The civilian aid goes to such things as training programs and projects run by the US Agency for International Development.
Of the $1.3 billion in military aid, about $585 million had yet to be disbursed at the time that the administration’s review began. It had not been deposited in an account in the Federal Reserve in New York, where the Egyptian military could use it to buy weapons and spare parts and to pay for maintenance and training.
For Obama, the decision on aid is complex because he faces political pressures at home and abroad. Israel, for example, has opposed the cutoff of aid, fearing that the Egyptian military could scale back its security operations in Sinai, allowing the Islamic militant group Hamas to smuggle more rockets through the area to Gaza, where they are fired on Israel.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has frequently been in contact with General Abdel- Fattah el-Sissi, the army chief who led Morsi’s ouster. But the Defense Department said in a statement late Tuesday, “The Pentagon is not commenting tonight on press reports regarding aid to the government of Egypt.”