Members Of Congress Urged To Cut Aid To Egypt

The U.S. has been unable to do much to reduce the violence in Egypt. President Obama canceled upcoming joint military exercises, and says the administration is looking at other options, perhaps affecting the $1.5 billion in military aid the U.S. provides Egypt each year. For more insight, Renee Montagne talks to Nathan Brown, a scholar of Middle East politics with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and George Washington University.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As the violence continues in Egypt, so does the focus on the limited influence that the U.S. seems to have on events there. Egypt's military commanders have worked with their American counterparts for decades. But last week, the military brushed off U.S. efforts to negotiate a peaceful compromise with opposition protestors. There are calls from members of Congress and others for cuts in the $1.5 billion in mainly military aid that Egypt gets each year.

And for a closer look at options facing the Obama administration, we go now to Nathan Brown, an expert in Middle East politics with George Washington University. Good morning.

NATHAN BROWN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. relationship with Egypt is mainly a security relationship, including training and weapons for Egyptian troops in cooperation against terrorists. Why has the U.S. had such a hard time influencing the country's generals now?

BROWN: Well, I would say there's a couple factors, here. Number one, the Egyptian political scene right now is really domestically focused, and the various political actors, including the military right now, are extremely focused on each other, and they're really involved with what they see almost as a struggle over Egypt's identity, over Egypt's future, an existential struggle. And the last thing that they want to do is listen to outsiders' advice.

There's a an additional issue as well, I think, and that is that most political actors do not see the United States as on their side. And that even extends to the Egyptian military, despite all that aid. They're convinced that the United States is really still looking at things a little bit through the lens of the Morsi presidency that was just overthrown, and that the United States was too closely identified with Morsi.

MONTAGNE: Well, what could be at stake for the U.S. if there were cuts in American aid to Egypt, and what could Egypt do in response that might hurt the U.S.?

BROWN: Well, the American-Egyptian relationship and the close relationship between the two governments and the close security relationship really dates back, you could say, to the last days of the Nixon administration. This is something that's just been part of American thinking and approach to the region. You'd think that most observers, if they sit down and think about it, think that Egyptian foreign policy would not necessarily change radically, certainly not under the new regime, if there were some rupture in American-Egyptian relations. They'd still basically have the same country. But there wouldn't be the close coordination over security issues.

MONTAGNE: Well, give us two or three examples of what the security issues are.

BROWN: Absolutely. There's close cooperation on terrorism. There's close cooperation on Arab-Israeli diplomacy. And any time the United States moves its military in the region, it often does so through space that Egypt occupies.

MONTAGNE: And could that all be at risk were the U.S. withdraw its aid?

BROWN: I think on a day-to-day basis, that close working relationship would be disrupted. Egypt wouldn't turn into an adversary of everything the Americans stand for, but it would just make diplomacy andAmerican security policy harder to operate in the region.

MONTAGNE: Well, the Egyptian government seems to be taking a more hard-line stance towards the West, generally. Anything could be done to turn that around?

BROWN: Over the short term, no. I think the Egyptian military right now is really trying to solidify this new regime and isn't really interested in listening to the advice of outsiders.

MONTAGNE: At this point in time. And finally, mostly the money, this aid, it goes actually to American contractors, not directly to the Egyptians.

BROWN: That's true, but it's still a very, very important part of the Egyptian military's calculations. The Egyptian military right now is entirely supplied, or largely supplied - certainly in more sophisticated weaponry - by the United States.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Middle East scholar Nathan Brown with the George Washington University and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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