- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
On July 11, the United States delivered its clearest message that it had made its peace with the military takeover in Egypt. Barely a week after President Mohammed Morsy was forced from office and three days after the army fired on pro-Morsy protesters, killing 54 of them, White House officials approved the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian military.
Now, Washington is making a U-turn. The Pentagon confirmed today that that the delivery of the fighter jets would be delayed due to the "current situation" in Cairo. "We do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s," said Defense Department spokesman George Little.
An anonymous Pentagon official went even further, telling the New York Times that the move was meant as "an inside fastball to the military." The official also warned that trying to "break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region."
So what does the U.S. government know about Egyptian politics today that it didn’t know on July 11? One major red flag came today: Gen. Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi, the defense minister and commander of the armed forces, delivered a speech calling for mass demonstrations on Friday "to give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism."
Since Morsy’s fall, Egypt has been the victim of a number of terrorist attacks: A device exploded in the city of city of Mansoura on Tuesday night, killing one soldier, while a string of attacks on Monday claimed the lives of six Egyptians. But there is near-universal support within Egypt for cracking down on the extremists who conduct such attacks — leading to speculation that Sissi is actually asking for permission to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the military takeover, anti-Morsy figures have increasingly used such language to tar their political opponents: Just today, the spokesman for interim President Adly Mansour announced, "Egypt has begun a war on terrorism."
Ironically, just as the new Egyptian government appropriates the language of U.S. politics, the Pentagon is getting cold feet about the direction that Cairo is heading in.