Obama launches 'review' of aid to Egypt in wake of military coup

President Obama late Wednesday declared himself “very concerned” by the Egyptian military's overthrow of the country's democratically elected president and said his administration was reviewing U.S. military aid as a result. 

In his first statement since the Egyptian army and the opposition overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government, Obama repeated that the United States was not taking sides in the dispute and avoided using the word “coup.” He called on the military to quickly restore power to a “democratically elected civilian government.”

“The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people,” Obama said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution.

“I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.”

P070313PS-0459

President Obama meets with members of his national security team to discuss the situation in Egypt, in the Situation Room of the White House, July 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

ADVERTISEMENT
The U.S. gives Egypt about $1.5 billion in annual aid, of which $1.3 billion is in the form of military assistance. Much of the aid is required by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel but U.S. law bars funding for countries that are ruled by the military.

The Egyptian army says it hasn't conducted a coup but rather is helping midwife a civilian transition with the support of the political opposition and Muslim and Coptic leaders. The army met with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei for emergency consultations Wednesday morning as the deadline to its ultimatum approached.

Debate over the future of U.S. aid is already creating a row on Capitol Hill.

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), vowed to work with the administration to tweak U.S. foreign aid laws so the administration can continue to exercise influence with the Arab world's most powerful military force.

“In determining the future of U.S. assistance, the administration should look at the regional picture with our vital national security interests in mind.  Our long-standing cooperation with Egypt, which is essential for stability in the region, should remain a priority.  If necessary, I believe Congress would stand ready to work with the administration to address any restrictions that stand in the way.” 

But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate budget panel with jurisdiction over foreign aid, said U.S. law mandates military aid be cut off. 

“Egypt's military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise,” he said. “In the meantime, our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree. 

“As we work on the new budget, my committee also will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture. As the world's oldest democracy, this is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms.”

Leahy sought to curtail military aid to Egypt last year but was overridden by the White House and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Others openly welcomed Wednesday's developments.

“The uprising in Egypt reflects the people's disgust with Mr. Morsi's attempt to keep all power in the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The U.S. can now deal with an interim government that represents a broader coalition of the Egyptian people.”


Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com


Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill