REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- The Muslim Brotherhood suggested Thursday that Cairo might reconsider its commitment to a peace treaty with Israel if the U.S. cuts $1.3 billion in military aid in retaliation for a deepening diplomatic crisis over American-funded pro-democracy groups working in Egypt.
It was unclear whether the comments by two senior Brotherhood members were rhetoric or marked a willingness by Egypt to reevaluate its 1979 peace agreement with Israel. Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, which controls nearly 50% of parliament seats, said U.S. aid was part of Egypt’s commitment to the treaty.
"The U.S. is a principle part of this agreement and its guarantor. There is no room for talking about aid except in the framework of discussing the peace deal," Morsi is quoted as saying on the Freedom and Justice Party's Facebook page. "Brandishing threats to stop this aid is out of place. Otherwise, the peace deal would be reconsidered or it could flounder."
Essam Erian, a ranking Brotherhood member, told Reuters that Egypt was a party to the treaty "and we will be harmed, so it is our right to review the matter." He added: "The aid was one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement, so if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties."
Brotherhood members have previously hinted at revisiting the peace deal. But the most recent comments came as members of Congress threatened to curtail military aid after Egypt filed criminal charges against 16 Americans working for nongovernmental organizations, including the International Republican Institute.
Egypt said the American-backed pro-democracy groups were not licensed and were illegally funded. Washington has demanded that the charges be dropped and the Americans, including Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, be allowed to leave the country.
The matter has touched a well of anti-American sentiment, prompting varying opinions across Egypt on the need for U.S. aid. Some ultraconservative Islamists, including a presidential candidate, have argued that Egypt’s reliance on American money degrades its sovereignty. Others have said Cairo cannot afford to jeopardize the aid at a time when Egypt is facing severe economic and social crises left over from former President Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt regime.
President Obama's budget to Congress included $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt and $250 million in economic aid. Egypt’s military rulers appear to be playing two strategies: Assuring Washington that Egypt remains a close ally while allowing Cabinet member Faiza Abu El-Naga to blame the Washington for fomenting chaos in Egypt as part of a plan to strengthen U.S. and Israeli interests.
"We can safely say that Faiza Abu El-Naga started this, but I think it has gotten out of control since then," Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, told the House Foreign Affair Committee on Thursday, according to news services. "With her lies about our activities, she has managed to convince some of the [Egyptian] military that we were doing nefarious things."
Photo: Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, which controls nearly 50% of parliament seats, says U.S. aid is an integral part of Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel. Credit: Mohammed Abu Zaid / Associated Press