WASHINGTON – Among the flurry of statements produced by congressional aides for
their bosses in the wake of the Egyptian disruption on Wednesday, one senator
issued a detailed warning. In no uncertain terms, the Vermonter cautioned that
US law may require Egypt be cut off from Congress’s purse due to the actions of
“Our law is clear: US aid is cut off when a democratically
elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” said Patrick Leahy,
who oversees the Senate subcommittee on foreign aid.
The statement came
just hours after Mohamed Morsi was forcibly removed from office by the military
before the end of his tenure. He was told that he was no longer head of state by
generals; and whether that constitutes a coup, or at minimum a decree issued by
military brass, is causing stress in Washington.
That’s because Leahy is
A provision in the law uses similar language: “Assistance is
prohibited to the government of a country where the duly elected head of
government of the recipient country has been deposed by military coup or
decree,” the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act reads, in its detailing of
proper allocation of foreign military financing (FMF), “unless the president has
notified Congress that a democratically elected government has since taken
US President Barack Obama reflected on those legal concerns in a
measured statement, calling on the Egyptian military to “move quickly and
responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian
government as soon as possible.”
“We are deeply concerned by the decision
of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian
constitution,” said the president. “Given today’s developments, I have also
directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under
US law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”
complicating Obama’s calculus is the fact that millions of Egyptians rallied in
favor of Morsi’s departure, and that the military announced a road map for
return to civilian rule that was blessed by Egypt’s Muslim and Christian
But Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood retain backing
from a broad swath of Egyptian society, even as he alienated many of his
Egypt receives more FMF than any other country save for
Israel, amounting to over a billion dollars a year. Many of its military
officials have studied in the United States and have extensive ties with their
Recent history suggests Obama might take his time
on deciding the future of US aid to Egypt and, by extension, Washington’s
relations with the country.
When Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was
ousted in June 2009, Washington temporarily suspended aid but did not cut about
$30 million in assistance until more than two months later.
secretary of state Hillary Clinton did not determine as a matter of law that a
coup had taken place.
Eric Trager, an expert on Egyptian politics at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Obama should neither label
Morsi’s ouster a coup nor cut off US aid.
“The Obama administration
should recognize that as undemocratic as a coup is, it was the result of the
basic fact that President Morsi had completely lost control of the Egyptian
state,” Trager said by telephone from Egypt.
“Democracy was not the
primary thing at stake in Egypt these last few months” but rather Morsi’s
mismanagement and fears of collapse of the Egyptian state, he said.
chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, warned
Egyptian military leaders of consequences if Morsi’s overthrow were viewed as a
“At the end of the day, it’s their country and they will find their
way, but there will be consequences if it is badly handled,” Dempsey told
Obama also warned against further violence, indicating that
Washington’s ultimate decision on aid to Egypt will depend on how Egypt’s armed
forces handle the transition in the coming weeks.
US lawmakers also
welcomed Morsi’s departure but called for a quick transition back to democratic
rule – with a close look at the aid budget.
Leahy on Wednesday promised a
review of the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250m. in economic aid sent to
Cairo each year.
Washington has cut off aid following military coups
several times before. In April 2012, the United States suspended at least $13m.
of its $140m. in annual aid to Mali following a coup in the West African
Programs that did not go directly through government ministries
were not affected.
Any Obama support for Egypt’s new government is
unlikely to face opposition from Republicans in Congress, who had been skeptical
of Morsi’s Islamist government.
“Morsi was an obstacle to the
constitutional democracy most Egyptians wanted,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce,
chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs
Republicans also voiced strong support for Egypt’s military,
whose close ties to Washington stretch back to the 1979 Israeli-Egypt peace
“The Egyptian military has long been a key partner of the United
States and a stabilizing force in the region, and is perhaps the only trusted
national institution in Egypt today,” said US Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2
Republican in the House.
“Democracy is about more than elections,” he