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Billions in U.S. military aid to Egypt is hanging in balance following a violent coup that deposed Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi last week.
Morsi was forcefully removed from office by the powerful Egyptian military, which seized control after millions of demonstrators took to the streets in Cairo to demand that Morsi step down.
The same protesters that brought down former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak revolted for a second time in just over two years after Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood took complete control of the political system.
U.S. law now dictates that the more than $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt be suspended following what experts and officials have called a military coup.
“According to Section 7008 of the FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74), aid administered by the State Department and USAID is banned to the government of any country where a military coup or decree has overthrown a democratically-elected government,” wrote Boris Zilberman, deputy director of congressional relations for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a policy brief.
President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget proposal allocates $1.3 billion in military aid. Egypt is also to receive $250 million in economic aid via USAID, a taxpayer-subsidized aid group, according to FDD.
All of this aid could be suspended under the law.
“Section 7008 prohibits ‘any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or … in which the military plays a decisive role,’” Zilberman noted in the FDD policy brief.
“It also makes it clear that, ‘assistance may be resumed to such government if the president determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office,’” according to FDD.
Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill called on the White House to suspend aid over the weekend.
“It was a coup and it was the second time in two and a half years that we have seen the military step in,” Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“It’s a strong indicator of the lack of American leadership and influence since we’ve urged the military not to do that and reluctantly I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election,” McCain said. “The fact is the United States should not be supporting this coup and it’s a tough call.”
While it will be difficult to rescind billions of dollars already handed to Egypt, McCain said the United States must pressure the Egyptian military to carry out a quick and fair power transition.
“The place is descending into chaos but so is the entire Middle East because of the total vacuum and lack of American leadership,” he said.
The deciding factor in whether the United States suspends aid could be a matter of terminology, according to FDD’s Zilberman.
“Whether or not Washington describes today’s dramatic events as a ‘revolution’ or ‘coup’ could guide U.S. policy, but it will be hard to argue that the military did not play a decisive role,” he wrote.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) called on Obama to make the case for continued U.S. aid to Egypt before Congress.
“I think the law is very clear on this and I think we ought to be honest with ourselves, and I don’t think that skirting the law is the right thing to do,” Rogers said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The president should come to congress and make the case.”
Though the Egyptian military has acted as a source of stability in Egypt, Rogers said Obama must still petition Congress.
“I think the president needs to come to Congress, because I do believe the law is very clear on this,” he said.
While U.S. law does require a suspension in aid following a military coup, Egypt expert Eric Trager, who witnessed the revolution first hand, said there are “always loopholes.”
“Policy makers need to consider [the implications of] cutting aid to a military that did what it had to do,” said Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The country was heading towards failure and millions took to the streets against the Brotherhood.”
“We shouldn’t be punishing them right now,” added Trager. “It’s not as if the military acting of its own volition and power hunger stepped in. It was responding to other realities.”
Since Morsi’s ejection from office, the military appointed Adly Mansour as the country’s interim president.
The military, however, will have an absolute say over who gets appointed to the government going forward.
Mansour assumed the presidency two days after he was appointed as Egypt’s Constitutional Court chief justice.
Mansour “spent 1983 to 1990 as a legal adviser in Saudi Arabia for the Egyptian Commerce Ministry,” according to the Israel Hayom, which quoted former Israeli Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter as saying that Mansour was “Mubarak’s man in Saudi Arabia.”
Trager said the timing of this appointment could be significant.
“Either he’s incredibly lucky or something interesting was happening behind the scenes,” he said.