Ackerman urges immediate halt to Egyptian aid

A senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee is urging the White House this week to cut aid to Egypt immediately.

In a letter to President Obama, Rep. Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs subpanel on the Middle East, said it's "essential" to U.S. security interests that Egyptians "know that America’s commitment to democracy is real." Ackerman is calling on the White House to suspend assistance to Egypt "indefinitely" — until President Hosni Mubarak takes tangible steps toward installing a democratically chosen replacement.

"I would not make this suggestion but for the urgency of the situation in Egypt, and the urgency of assisting the people of Egypt in their struggle for freedom," Ackerman wrote in the Feb. 4 letter. "I believe it essential to our national security interests that the world’s largest Arab state know that America’s commitment to democracy is real, and that we will not continue to underwrite a regime organizing violence against its own people."

The letter arrived on the tenth day of impassioned protests against the Mubarak regime, which has ruled with an autocratic hand — and U.S. assistance — for more than 30 years.

Ackerman said the U.S. aid sends a different message in the context of today's protests than it did in the decades beforehand.

"For 30-plus years, U.S. assistance has been a symbol of U.S.-Egyptian friendship," he wrote. "Today, it has become a symbol to Egyptians of U.S. support for President Mubarak. That cannot continue."

Addressing the Egyptian people on Tuesday, Mubarak vowed not to run in the country's upcoming elections, scheduled for September. But he also indicated he won't step aside before then, as both the White House and the anti-government protestors are urging.

On Wednesday, the largely peaceful protests took a violent turn, as Mubarak supporters surged into Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests, spoiling for a fight. Meanwhile, the highly-respected Egyptian military has thus far remained largely neutral amid the clashes, urging protestors to leave the streets but not forcing them to do so.

Ackerman theorized that the military's "passivity" is caused by "indecision at the highest levels of the Egyptian military about what role they should play."

"Caught in a conflict between their loyalty to the government and their obligation to sacrifice all to protect their nation, they have been paralyzed," Ackerman wrote, adding that the U.S. should "help them to choose."

"As Egypt’s future hangs in the balance they must know that we cannot continue to support them if they continue to support a government bereft of legitimacy and abhorred by the Egyptian people," he said.

Ackerman is just the latest in a string of lawmakers calling on Obama to suspend Egyptian aid until the stand-off is resolved.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign affairs, threatened Wednesday to cut off all aid to Egypt unless Mubarak steps down before September's elections.

"There is nobody, Republican or Democratic in the Senate and I suspect in the House, that's going to vote for an aid package for Egypt under these circumstances," Leahy told MSNBC.