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Why Egypt may not care about losing US aid

Some say that Egypt's military rulers may be willing to forgo $1.3 billion in aid if it means a boost in popularity.

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An Egyptian man passes by a mural and Arabic that reads, 'free men will continue the journey, coming back,' in Cairo, Thursday. Egypt is refusing to back down in a dispute with the US over Cairo's crackdown on nonprofit groups despite Washington's threats to cut aid, while the military deployed troops to the nation's streets after a surge in violence and protests against its rule.

Nasser Nasser/AP

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A growing number of US officials are warning that Egypt’s insistence on prosecuting at least 16 Americans in a crackdown on pro-democracy organizations will have drastic consequences.

As the diplomatic crisis escalates, the looming threat is that the US will cut off its $1.3 billion per year in military assistance to Egypt, which has flowed every year since 1987 as unofficial compensation for Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.  

Yet despite the warnings, Egypt has refused to back down, instead escalating the crisis at every turn. It's unclear whether Egypt sees the US threats as serious. But some say that the military rulers may see the domestic gains to be made in establishing Egypt's independence from the US, which supported former President Hosni Mubarak for decades, as outweighing the benefits of the aid.

“They're trying to provoke [the severing of US aid]," says Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "Because they're desperate and they want to present themselves as popular defenders of the nation. So what better way to do it?”

Furthermore, he argues, “It wouldn't mean a thing” to Egypt’s military were the aid to stop. “A great bulk of that has gone into the procurement of weapons systems that have not been used, are not likely to be used, and that [Egyptian forces] haven't been properly trained on.”

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