Egyptian military vehicles block a road leading to the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo as Egyptian police try to disperse supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi on August 14, 2013. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said at least 250 people were killed and over 5,000 injured in a police crackdown on two major protest camps held by supporters of Morsi. AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES / KHALED DESOUKI
Oren Dorell and Sarah Lynch, USA TODAY
The Obama administration will cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt to register displeasure over the military's pace of restoring democracy following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
The U.S. provides $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt. The State Department did not provide a dollar amount of the aid being cut.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the United States will withhold delivery of certain large-scale military systems as well as cash assistance to the Egyptian government until "credible progress" is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.
Some analysts and Egyptian said the move could backfire.
"You're basically putting pressure on the military when they're dealing with a major and increasingly violent crisis," said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised the U.S. State Department.
"We've seen in Pakistan and elsewhere what happens when we assume people are so dependent on U.S. aid. You end up alienating the majority of the population."
Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said any plan to cut military aid to Egypt would be a mistake, and that the USA should choose the side of the military in Egypt and stick with it.
The decision to continue military aid to Cairo "should be based on our national security interests and those of our allies in the region," Engel said in a statement. "If the choice is between working with Egypt's military leadership or the Muslim Brotherhood, then I believe we must not jeopardize the decades-long relationship that we have built with the military."
The Egyptian military overthrew the elected government of Morsi in July in what it said was an attempt to restore democracy from tyrannical rule. It said it plans to hold elections but none have been scheduled. Meantime, the Muslim Brotherhood has been ruled illegal by courts.
Said Sadek, a political sociologist at the American University in Cairo, said an aid cut could be used by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who overthrew Morsi, to bolster its support for the military.
"It will look like Obama is pressuring the independent, patriotic Al-Sisi," Sadek said, "so if Al-Sisi is going to use that to look like a national hero... it will help his media campaign if he wants to be elected as a president."
Mohamed Soliman, student leader for the Constitution Party, said cutting aid would be "disastrous" for Egypt and U.S. aioms in the region.
Egypt "can't fight this war alone - the war on terror, defending the state, trying to secure the border between Egypt and Libya and trying to stop the influx of jihadists to Sinai," he said. "They need equipment, training, international support."
U.S. law forbids sending aid to countries where a democratic government was deposed by a military coup. The United States says the overthrow was the result of a popular uprising and have not characterized it as a coup. Egypt is also an ally in the war against terrorism and Islamic extremism. The aid began after Egypt signed a peace treaty with U.S.-ally Israel in 1979.
The suspension of aid comes as the U.S. has already suspended delivery of advanced warplanes and tanks in the wake of the removal of Morsi and the military's suppression of pro-Morsi demonstrations. Some demonstrators have become violent, and dozens of pro-Morsi demonstrators have been killed. The military has arrested hundreds of political leaders who belonged to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood political movement.
The Pentagon announced in July it was suspending the delivery of 14 remaining F-16s that are part of an agreement to transfer 20 aircraft to the Egyptian military. The Pentagon also announced last summer that the delivery of 125 M1A1 tanks and 10 Apache helicopters was under review.
Cordesman said those items are not crucial to Egypt's current fight against Islamist insurgents.
"If you're fighting in the Sinai and dealing with violent Islamic protesters from the Muslim Brotherhood or other elements," American demands and delayed shipments of high status items "is not something that's going to lead to instant change in violent behavior," Cordesman said.
The U.S. seeks to sway Egypt's military rulers to moderate their crackdown on political enemies and move the country toward new elections and adopting a constitution, Cordesman said. But, he said, the best way to influence Egyptian behavior without alienating the population is "by simply not delivering" items its military wants, and to do so quietly.
Withholding aid "is a way of putting leverage on the Egyptian military to hopefully moderate its conduct and move to more democratic behavior," Cordesman says. But "this kind of pressure works best when it's applied quietly and not in a really noisy media dispute. Unfortunately that option is essentially closed."
Lynch reported from Cairo, Dorell from Washington