Brookings Now

What Partial Suspension of U.S. Military Aid to Egypt Might Mean

Fred Dews

The Obama administration announced a partial suspension of its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. This comes months after the Egyptian military’s deposition of President Mohamed Morsi in July, an action that many said required the United States to cut off aid until a democratic government was restored. Brookings scholars have called the move a “half-measure,” a “mistake,” “divorced from any broader strategy,” and “purely symbolic.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, says the move is “a half-measure that will gain the U.S. little except closure on an awkward, months-long saga over Egypt aid.” Calling it “the least worst option,” Wittes writes:

None of this, of course, adds up to a policy that will achieve America’s stated strategic objectives of stability, much less democracy—this is yet another short-term, interim measure designed to preserve narrow U.S. interests rather than advance broad ones. Given that instability—and violence—in Egypt are likely to increase in the coming months without some political accommodation with Islamists and restraints on the security forces, this is no solution. But unlike other short-term responses by the administration to developments in Egypt, like its overinvestment in President Mohamed Morsi during 2012-2013, this move does not foreclose larger policy shifts down the road. …

In this case, a U.S. approach that keeps channels open but puts down some markers about the limits of U.S. acquiescence could be a decent start to a long-term effort at nudging the political system toward greater openness and refusing to buy into a wholesale Egyptian “war on terror,” while protecting near-term U.S. security interests.

Doha Center Director Salman Shaikh calls the partial suspension “a mistake.”

Shadi Hamid told The Cable that “The key question is whether the consequences for the Egyptian military are significant or meaningful. If they aren’t, then there’s little reason to think the move will change their calculus, which, I would argue, is the point of any aid suspension.”

In September, Hamid and Peter Mandaville, in a Brookings Doha Center policy paper, called for a complete reassessment of the “basic rationale behind U.S.-Egyptian relations,” including the belief that U.S. military assistance to Cairo of over a billion dollars per year since 1983 “is a price that needs to be paid to ensure Cairo’s compliance with the Camp David Accords.”

Additional scholar views from Twitter appear below, followed by analysis written in August following the military coup.

In August, Michael O’Hanlon reviewed the U.S. military’s alternatives to using the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace, countering the view that U.S. forces are dependent on these routes, and thus the military aid is a requirement to keep them available.

Wittes and Amy Hawthorne said that aid to Egypt should have been halted, setting aside much of it in a trust fund for Egypt.

Also writing in August after the July coup, Robert Kagan argued that the United States was “complicit” in the Egyptian military’s violent acts against the Morsi government and his supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Suspending aid now,” Kagan wrote, 

is not merely a matter of principle or even of abiding by our own laws — although that ought to count for something. As a practical security matter, we may pay a heavy price down the road for our complicity in the military’s actions over the coming months.


Get all Brookings scholars’ research and commentary on Egypt here.