World and Nation

Egypt uses Israeli treaty as bargaining chip

CAIRO — The Islamist party that leads the new Egyptian Parliament is threatening to review the 1979 peace treaty with Israel if the United States cuts off aid to the country over a crackdown on U.S.-backed nonprofit groups here.

The pact is considered a linchpin of regional stability, and the statements, from at least two senior leaders of the party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, represent the first time that Egyptians have explicitly raised it during an escalating standoff over the crackdown.

The Obama administration and congressional leaders have already warned Egypt that the United States might cut off its annual aid to the country, which in the most recent budget came to $1.3 billion in military supplies and about $250 million in other subsidies, including some money directed to the nonprofit groups under investigation. At least two senators have introduced legislation that could curtail the aid, and the Brotherhood released its statements Thursday as the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the matter.

Leaders of the Brotherhood have said that they would respect the U.S.-brokered 1979 treaty, and the seriousness of their new threats is hard to assess. Many analysts, as well as some Brotherhood leaders here, have cited internal domestic reasons to respect the treaty, mainly because it ensures peaceful borders at a time when Egypt can ill afford the cost of a military buildup and its economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

But at the same time, Egyptians have long considered U.S. aid as a kind of payment for preserving the peace despite the popular resentment of Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians, widely seen here as a violation of the treaty.

In the clearest of multiple Brotherhood statements on the subject, Essam el-Erian, who is chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Reuters that 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.”

“We will be harmed,” he added, “so it is our right to review the matter.”

The crisis was set off by a criminal investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups; the inquiry began last spring under the military council that took power after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The council kept on the books severe restrictions on the operations and financing of nonprofit groups that made almost all the independent advocacy or rights groups operating in Egypt technically illegal.