WASHINGTON — In moves that outraged critics of Egypt's heavy-handed military rulers, the Obama administration took steps this week toward lifting a suspension on military aid to Cairo.
The moves include releasing half the annual U.S. aid package to Egypt, authorizing the delivery of Apache helicopters after a months-long delay, and inviting intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Mohamed El-Tohamy and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy to Washington.
The developments suggest that the White House is ready for warmer ties with Egypt, a longtime strategic ally and the Arab world's most populous nation. Egypt has had a testy relationship with the United States since the ouster of strongman Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent crackdowns that have alarmed human rights groups.
In pursuing warmer ties, however, President Barack Obama is now facing the same criticism as his predecessors: that U.S. policy toward Egypt is flawed because of the double standard in demanding democracy while supporting authoritarian rulers. Or, in Obama's case, sending millions of dollars to a military-led coup government that overthrew the first freely elected leader in Egypt's history.
Critics say the new U.S. friends in Cairo are the same ones who've allowed or ordered the killing of hundreds in the name of eradicating Muslim Brotherhood "terrorism." Human rights advocates also are deeply concerned about the imposition of mass death sentences after show trials, and a crackdown on journalists.
The announcements this week triggered renewed interest in foreign aid to Egypt. The State Department on Thursday released a statement that explains how the money is allocated:
"The Egypt bilateral foreign assistance budget for FY2014 is approximately $1.5 billion and includes $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) – $200 million in Economic Support Funds; and over $7 million for other security assistance programs, including International Military Education and Training, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs. The $650 million from FY2014 FMF will be the first of this funding to move forward, pending Congressional notification and approval."