The vacuum of leadership created by the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has spawned widespread violence that now threatens to plunge Egypt into an all-out civil war.
Intense fighting across the nation has left more than 800 people dead in the past week alone, as security forces have killed hundreds of supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in a raging battle for control of the country.
However, despite the military's overthrow of the democratically elected government, and despite its brutal crackdown on demonstrators, several Egyptian allies have maintained — or even bolstered — their support for the troubled nation.
Two of America's closest allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are strong backers of Egypt (more on that later) putting the U.S. in a tough political bind. While the Obama administration has chastised the military's use of lethal force, it has been reluctant to formally withdraw support for fear of straining relations with its partners in the region.
In a sign of how delicate that relationship is, the White House aggressively pushed back Tuesday against a Daily Beast report claiming the administration had secretly halted all military aid to Egypt. Within hours, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan insisted the report was wrong, saying the U.S. was "reviewing all of our assistance to Egypt" but that "no policy decisions have been made at this point."
The U.S. is a major financial backer of Egypt, and is scheduled to send it another $585 million more in military aid — out of an annual earmark of $1.3 billion — by the end of September.
If the U.S. were to declare what happened in Egypt a coup, the law would essentially require America to stop sending that money. That's why American officials have been locked into the tricky, seemingly absurd position of refusing to say one way or another whether the overthrow constituted a coup.
Before the recent fighting broke out, Secretary of State John Kerry even seemed to endorse the overthrow, saying in an interview, "The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendence into chaos, into violence."
President Obama has taken some actions to curb U.S. support for the regime, canceling joint military exercises and delaying the delivery of F-16 fighter jets. But on the whole, the administration has, at least for now, continued to support the military over its rivals.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait
While the U.S. has hedged a bit in its support of the military, Saudi Arabia has been a full-throated supporter. That nation said Monday that, should the U.S. and others cut their aid to Egypt, it would pick up all the slack.
From the New York Times:
In recent days, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has publicly condemned the Muslim Brotherhood, sent field hospitals to Egypt and in rare public comments vowed continued support. The foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, traveled to Europe, where he pushed back against efforts to punish Egypt's rulers. And Saudi Arabia delivered a blank check to Cairo, promising to shower it with money as needed.
"The kingdom stands with Egypt and against all those who try to interfere with its domestic affairs," King Abdullah said Friday in a televised speech. [New York Times]
The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have already pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt's new government, a comparatively huge sum next to the United States' offering.
Those nations, Saudi Arabia chief among them, are bitter rivals of the Muslim Brotherhood, and have cautiously watched as popular Islamic uprisings have taken hold across the region.
The Saudi government was a close ally to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and called those who toppled him from power "infiltrators." With Morsi, Mubarak's successor, in power, the Saudis worried Iran could gain a new foothold in the region; the nation bristled when Morsi allowed Iranian ships to traverse the Suez Canal, something Mubarak had prohibited.
With Morsi gone, the Saudi government sees an opportunity to propel its allies in Egypt back to control once again.
Already in a difficult position in the Middle East, Israel, like Saudi Arabia, is eager to maintain friendly relations with Egypt to fortify its standing in the region.
Israel has a powerful ally in the United States, but few allies in the region. And the conflict in Egypt has only exacerbated that problem, with Turkey's prime minister boldly accusing Israel of not only supporting but actually orchestrating the coup.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been quietly lobbying Washington to continue its support of Egypt, hoping to keep aid flowing without appearing to be too supportive of the military crackdown.
From Foreign Policy:
An AIPAC source speaking with The Cable on the condition of anonymity insisted that aid to Egypt was not a top issue for the lobbying group. But the source noted that AIPAC's support for the aid was not contingent on the way Egypt treats anti-government protesters. "The primary criteria on how we evaluate this issue is if Egypt is adhering to the peace treaty," the source said, referring to the 1979 peace accord that normalized relations between Egypt and Israel. "We realize that the situation is very fluid and that policymakers will have a range of considerations on this matter." [Foreign Policy]
With the violence escalating, Israel has ramped up its private lobbying efforts, with one anonymous official telling the New York Times, "it's army or anarchy."
The European Union, like the United States, has a vested financial interest in Egypt. Last year, that group of nations promised Egypt $6.7 billion in grants and loans over the next few years.
While member states have scaled back their own support — Germany, for one, suspended arms shipments to Egypt — the bloc as a whole has been reluctant to broadly condemn the interim government. Doing so, the EU fears, could undermine the democratic process, and harm the bloc's relationship with the fledgling Egyptian government.
The EU, along with the U.S., has sought a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Yet the increasing violence has led it to weigh more strident actions, like a complete suspension of aid, to resolve the conflict.
Still, the EU's official position, for now, is one of tacit support. A special EU envoy, Bernardino Leon, affirmed the Europeans' position this week, saying that, "The government has a special responsibility but not the only responsibility."
"There is violence coming from both sides," he added.