x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US legislators split over continued aid to Egypt

Members of the US Congress are split over whether the United States should cut off military aid to Egypt amid spiralling violence on the streets of an important Middle Eastern ally.

WASHINGTON // Members of the US Congress are split over whether the United States should cut off military aid to Egypt, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration amid spiralling violence on the streets of an important Middle East ally.

Democratic leaders have generally supported the president's approach. But on Sunday, the Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to congress, said he would end aid to Egypt.

"I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, 'look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before'," Mr Ellison said. "In my mind, there's no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders."

The White House has refused to declare the ousted president Mohammed Morsi's removal in early July a coup - a step that would require the president, Barack Obama, to suspend US$1.3 billion (Dh4.8bn) in annual military aid.

Crackdowns last week left more than 800 people dead and thousands more injured as Morsi supporters protested.

Mr Obama has denounced the violence, cancelled joint military exercises due in September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. He insists that the US stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government, but says America cannot determine Egypt's future.

The National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, said funding for Egypt remained under review and "we will consider additional steps as we deem necessary".

Among Republicans, there were growing calls to eliminate military aid to Egypt. But others were more hesitant.

Congressman Pete King said curtailing aid could reduce US influence over Egypt's interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.

"We certainly shouldn't cut off all aid," said Mr King, who chairs the House of Representatives panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.

Mr Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, Mr King said, the group had not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.

"The fact is, there's no good guys there," he said. "But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military."