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Common Threats Keep Egypt, US Relations Going

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Relations between Egypt and the United States have hit a new low after Washington announced a cut in military aid to its once key Arab ally. But, common threats may keep the alliance on track.

Egyptian officials have criticized the suspension of some U.S. military aid as the military-led government cracks down on its opponents. But others see Washington's decision as one that only strengthens a resurgent neo-nationalism.

"Many Egyptians are welcoming the cutting of aid because they felt that it was not significant enough to make Egypt a dependent country and a follower of the U.S.," said political analyst Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

But there are repercussions and they come at a critical time.

The Egyptian military is trying to flex its muscles after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, waging what it calls a war on terror. Veteran diplomat Abudllah al Ashaal says that, for the military, it's a broad concept.

"We are keen not to be necessarily aligned with the United States but to see or pursue our national interests. What is our national interest? To fight terrorism everywhere. What is terrorism? Terrorism means anyone who is against them,” said professor and veteran diplomat Abdullah al-Ashaal.

While al-Ashaal said the military's major focus was the political force of the Muslim Brotherhood, jihadism was a growing threat, moving from the Sinai peninsula into Egypt's heartland.

And for that it relies on the U.S. weapons systems it has been using for decades.

"When there's a change in the arms supplier it usually takes from three to four years to train the military on the new weapons systems,” said political analyst Saad Eddin Ibrahim of IBN Khaldun Center.

And for all the concern about political developments in Egypt, the U.S. has strategic interests at stake; Washington said it would keep helping Egypt in key counter-terrorism efforts.

Sinai not only is attracting more militants, it borders Israel and was a cornerstone of the aid deal with Egypt to make peace with U.S. ally Israel in 1979.

"The more the army is involved in Sinai, the more the army is also involved in its relations with Israel and at the same time, I expect that after [Syrian peace talks at] Geneva Two, all the terrorists in the world are coming to Sinai,” said former ambassador al-Ashaal.

That common military challenge, Ashaal believed, would likely be enough to hold the key players - Egypt, the U.S. and Israel - together.

As for the political fallout? There is little worry of escalating anti-Americanism, Ashall said, as people were already “anti-American to the teeth.”
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