BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei— U.S. officials said Wednesday that the Obama administration is poised to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt. The announcement is expected this week, once official notifications have been made to all interested parties.
The U.S. has been considering such a move since the Egyptian military ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader in July. It would be a dramatic shift for the Obama administration, which has declined to label President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster a coup and has argued that it is in U.S. national security interests to keep aid flowing. It would also likely have profound implications for decades of close U.S.-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The move follows a particularly violent weekend in Egypt, as dozens of people were killed in clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters.
The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before the administration’s official announcement.
President Barack Obama’s top national security aides recommended the aid cutoff in late August, and Obama had been expected to announce it last month. But the announcement got sidetracked by the debate over whether to launch military strikes against Syria.
The U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year in aid, $1.3 billion of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some of it goes to the government and some to other groups. Only the money that goes to the government would be suspended.
The planned cutoff of U.S. aid also underscored the strategic shifts under way in the region as U.S. allies in the Gulf forge ahead with policies at odds with Washington. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are strong backers of Syrian rebel factions and were openly dismayed when the U.S. set aside possible military strikes against Bashar Assad’s government.
Iran had moved quickly to heal long-strained ties with Egypt following Morsi’s election, but now has to redirect its policies with Egyptian leaders who don’t share Tehran’s agenda.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court on Wednesday announced that Morsi will go on trial on Nov. 4 on charges of incitement to the killing of opponents while he was in office. Morsi was removed in a popularly-backed coup on July 3 and has been held incommunicado at an unknown location and has not been seen since, though he has spoken to his family twice and was visited by EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and an African Union delegation.
According to Wednesday’s court decision, the 62-year old Morsi will be tried before a criminal court for allegedly inciting his supporters to kill at least 10 people, use violence and unlawfully detain and torture anti-Morsi protesters.
Officials told The Associated Press in September that the recommendation involving U.S. aid to Egypt called for a significant amount to be withheld. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations. The money could be restored once a democratically elected government is returned.
While the exact amount to be suspended was up to the president, the principals recommended it include all foreign military financing to Egypt’s army except for money that supports security in the increasingly volatile Sinai Peninsula and along Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, U.S. officials said. Counterterrorism funding may also continue.