Why Egypt may not care about losing US aid
Some say that Egypt's military rulers may be willing to forgo $1.3 billion in aid if it means a boost in popularity.
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As the diplomatic crisis escalates, the looming threat is that the US will cut off its $1.3 billion per year in military assistance to Egypt, which has flowed every year since 1987 as unofficial compensation for Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
Yet despite the warnings, Egypt has refused to back down, instead escalating the crisis at every turn. It's unclear whether Egypt sees the US threats as serious. But some say that the military rulers may see the domestic gains to be made in establishing Egypt's independence from the US, which supported former President Hosni Mubarak for decades, as outweighing the benefits of the aid.
“They're trying to provoke [the severing of US aid]," says Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "Because they're desperate and they want to present themselves as popular defenders of the nation. So what better way to do it?”
Furthermore, he argues, “It wouldn't mean a thing” to Egypt’s military were the aid to stop. “A great bulk of that has gone into the procurement of weapons systems that have not been used, are not likely to be used, and that [Egyptian forces] haven't been properly trained on.”
The $1.3 billion in aid isn’t given as cash to Egypt’s military. Instead, it is used to buy US-made military equipment for Egypt, or to pay for upgrades or maintenance for military equipment. In the past, Egypt has used the assistance, which makes up at least 20 percent of its military budget, to buy equipment like Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M-60A3 and M1A1 tanks, and armored personnel carriers. Egypt has already placed orders, for 2012 and 2013, for F-16s and M1A1 Abrams tanks. Egypt’s military also regularly sends officers to the US for training.
Springborg says Egypt does not properly maintain many of the M1A1 Abrams tanks, does not have all of them in service, and does not regularly train servicemen on them. The F-16s, he says, are “dumbed-down” versions that are “not effective fighting planes.”
“These are just trinkets,” says Springborg. “Militarily, they don’t mean anything. [Defacto leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi knows that full and well. … Cutting off military aid is not a real threat. It’s a hollow threat on our part.”
'A big deal' if aid were to be cut
The military council that took power when former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after massive protests last year has sought to present the unrest and instability that has plagued the country since as the work of “foreign hands” out to destroy Egypt. The crackdown on civil society organizations has been positively portrayed in many newspapers as an attempt to uphold Egypt’s sovereignty against foreign meddling. A recent Gallup Poll found that 71 percent of Egyptians oppose the idea of American aid to Egypt. Some suggest that the investigation may have become too big of an issue domestically for the military to shut it down without losing face.
And some say the generals would not be so quick to wave goodbye to a large chunk of its defense budget. Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation, says the behavior of Egypt’s leaders suggests that they don’t believe the US is serious about the aid being in jeopardy.