General Al-Sisi’s Popularity Soars After U.S. Aid Cut-off To Egypt

The U.S. announced it would postpone some military aid to Egypt due to ongoing crackdowns by the government—but Egyptians see the move as meddling in their national affairs and are applauding the army for talking tough. Sophia Jones reports from Cairo.

For some Egyptians, the U.S. decision to cut off millions in aid to the country is seen as a brazen betrayal, or worse yet, as patronizing. For others, it’s a welcome move that will pave the way for Egyptian independence from a manipulative superpower. And for many others, it signals a weak slap on the hand to a government and a military that has been slaughtering its own people.

But perhaps the most common feeling in Cairo these days is that the cut-off marks the strongest proof yet that Washington is an enemy of the Egyptian state.

On Wednesday, in an attempt to condemn the military’s recent crackdowns, the Obama administration announced that shipments of military equipment to Egypt would be postponed indefinitely, and $260 million would be redirected away from the Egyptian government to aid groups. U.S. officials vaguely stated the aid cuts would continue until “credible progress” was made towards a real democratic transition.

While equipment like F-16 fighter jets, tank parts, missiles, and Apache helicopters will no longer be sent to Egypt, military training and health and education assistance will continue. Aid used for security along Egypt’s border with Gaza and counterterrorism efforts in the restive Sinai Peninsula will also remain intact.

The aid cuts were met with outrage and anxiety inside Egypt. On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty blasted the news: “Egypt will not surrender to American pressure and is continuing its path towards democracy as set by the roadmap,” he said in an interview with a private radio station.

“If anything, this news entrenches two popular ideas that people already have,” said Wael Eskandar, a Coptic Christian Egyptian journalist and blogger who has been openly critical of the military. “One, that the U.S. strongly backs the Muslim Brotherhood and is pressuring Egypt on their behalf, and that entrenches the Muslim Brotherhood’s alienation in society and anti-American sentiments. And two, that the army is standing up to the U.S., and that will increase [leader General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s] popularity.”

Adam Mowafi, a young entrepreneur who recently helped launch a series of social media ventures catering to Cairo’s elite, echoed that view on Twitter after the announcement of the aid cut. “The U.S. just guaranteed Sisi will be president,” he tweeted, referring to a potential wave of nationalism that could sweep Egypt following the U.S. decision.

Even members of the Muslim Brotherhood are lukewarm on the aid cuts. Hager El Saway, a Brotherhood member who frequently demonstrated atRabaa al-Adawiya Mosque before it was violently dispersed by security forces, says she doesn’t see the partial aid cut as real action. “If the American regime suddenly found Egypt is not democratic, did we need all these protesters to die?” she said. “It’s clear we are not on a democratic path—it’s been three months.”

Most Egyptians are pleased with the proposed aid cut, Mowafi told The Daily Beast, though he added that a partial cut-off in aid could be taken as an insult, implying that the army is “taking scraps” from Washington. The U.S. gives around $1.5 billion in aid annually to Egypt, $1.3 billion of which has gone to the military since 1987. While Egypt has been one of the main recipients of U.S. aid for decades, Gulf allies have promised a staggering $12 billion in aid following Morsi’s downfall.

After the United States—along with other nations—labeled Morsi’s ouster a coup, mass-produced signs depicting President Obama as Osama Bin Laden showed up in protests on Cairo’s streetes. Many of the posters accused the U.S. government of using billions of dollars in aid to finance terrorism. Demonstrations chanted anti-American sentiments outside of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and American journalists were attacked and told they were not welcome in pro-military protests in Tahrir Square. Egyptian newspapers also labeled Anne Patterson —then the controversial U.S. Ambassador to Egypt—as the “ambassador from hell,” and Egypt’s main state-run media outlet accused her of conspiring with the Brotherhood to bring down Egypt.

The fact that CNN first reported the aid cuts further fanned the flames of anti-Americanism this week, fueled by a deep hatred of CNN (one of the many news outlets perceived as being pro-Muslim Brotherhood by some Egyptians). One online petition against CNN’s coverage has 43,813 signatures, mostly from Egyptians or people of Middle Eastern descent. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” the petition reads. “Your coverage of the revolution was totally biased in favor of the MB, just like your Government.”

The United States is not alone in scaling back military aid to Egypt in the wake up Morsi’s ouster. In August, Denmark and Germany suspended aid to Egypt; the United Kingdom suspended dozens of Egypt military export licenses for helicopters, ammunition, and military communications; and the EU halted arms exports. But the American aid cuts have prompted the most anger among Egyptians.

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Meanwhile, Israel has pressed the U.S. to continue its military aid to al-Sisi, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressing that “peace was premised on aid to Egypt”. Upon hearing the news Wednesday, an anonymous Israeli official told The New York Times that the United States would be seen as “dropping a friend.”

The day before Morsi was ousted, as protests raged across Egypt demanding his removal from power, the U.S. Defense Department awarded an $8 million contract to DRS Radar Systems for an Egyptian border surveillance system, likely to be used along the Gaza border. In late August, major U.S. defense contractor firm Raytheon was granted nearly $10 million for a border tunnel detection system for Egypt.

On Thursday, mere hours after Washington announced its decision to slash aid, yet another suicide bomb exploded in the Sinai, a day before the 100th anniversary of Morsi’s overthrow. With the potential for even more bloodshed looming in Egypt, the United States has only added to an already tarnished reputation among Egyptians, whatever their politics.