CAIRO — The US administration’s reported decision to deny millions of dollars in aid to Egypt has led to widespread anger and confusion among members of the government in Cairo, Egyptian officials told BuzzFeed News.
Some Egyptian officials said the US decision, reported by Reuters, to cut $96 million in aid and delay $195 million in military funding, which had already been approved, because of Egypt's failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms showed dysfunction within the US administration.
“There are people in the administration who don't understand the region, and are taking the wrong decision on issues related to the Middle East,” said a senior political officer in the Egyptian president’s office.
Mohamed Orabi, a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a former foreign minister, said he viewed the reported decision as political punishment and as a sign there was a deep split within the Trump administration. “We can see that there is still a section in Washington that insists in being blind to the immense progress Egypt has made in becoming a stable nation,” Orabi said.
President Donald Trump has presented himself as a fan of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, calling him a “fantastic guy” and praising his “tough approach” on terrorism. The State Department has expressed concerns over deteriorating human rights conditions in Egypt, but the current administration has avoided voicing such concerns publicly.
The US has not commented on the reported aid cut. Egypt’s foreign ministry released a statement Wednesday saying it regretted the decision.
“This action reflects a misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relationship that binds the two countries over decades, and an approach that lacks the precise understanding of the importance of supporting the stability of Egypt and the success of its experience,” the statement said.
The news came as Jared Kushner was in Cairo on a tour of the Middle East. Early Wednesday, the foreign ministry canceled a scheduled meeting between the foreign minister and a US delegation led by Kushner. But hours later, the ministry’s spokesman posted a video on Twitter that showed Kushner with the foreign minister.
Kushner also met Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who has tried to present himself as a bulwark against militant extremism — and received praise and a pledge of support from Trump.
“The meeting between President Sisi and Kushner was to focus on emphasizing the depth of Egyptian-American relations which won't be affected by issues like yesterday,” a senior political officer at the president’s office told BuzzFeed News. “The president is also looking for assurances about where the White House stood on the decision, and whether it tried to push back.”
Ordinary Egyptians were divided over the US decision to curtail aid — many who opposed Sisi mocked the country’s leader online while those in the pro-Sisi camp stoked nationalism, saying the country would not bow to US demands in order to receive aid.
Egypt is one of the top recipients of US military and economic aid — the country receives about $1.5 billion annually, much of which in the past has gone towards buying military equipment. Previous US administrations, including the Obama administration, have justified the aid as a means to stabilize the region and avoid bigger regional problems.
The decision to cut the aid over human rights issues seemed abrupt especially given the warm welcome Sisi received in Washington in April, during which President Trump avoided making any mention of such issues. “I just want to say to you, Mr. President,” Trump had told Sisi, “that you have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”