Lawmakers clash with Obama administration over aid cut to Egypt

Lawmakers of both parties on Tuesday slammed President Obama's decision to curtail aid to Egypt as administration officials testified for the first time about their response to the military government's brutal crackdown on protesters.

Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee accused the administration of putting a vital strategic partnership at risk.

The White House announced earlier this month that it was holding the delivery of major weapons systems – including F-16 fighter jets, M1 tanks, Apache helicopters and Harpoon missiles – and freezing $560 million in direct cash transfers and loan guarantees to the Egyptian government following the massacre of more than 1,000 followers of deposed President Mohammed Morsi.

“In managing America’s foreign policy, there are times when our ideals and our security interests don’t conveniently align,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee. “The situation in Egypt today is a case in point.”

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He went on to accuse Morsi of seeking to impose policies that would have been “devastating to most Egyptians, to American interests, and the interests of our allies in the region.” The military deposed Morsi on July 3 after large-scale protests demanding his ouster amid a worsening economic crisis.

“If I were given the choice between the military and the Brotherhood,” Engel said. “I’ll take the military every time.”

Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said some members of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood remain “deeply committed to violence and tyranny.” 

“The fact that these extremists are actively hostile to American interests binds us with the Egyptian government,” Royce said. “That is why I support a continued and robust military relationship with Egypt.”

Administration officials said the United States continues to support counter-terrorism cooperation with Egypt even as it seeks to pressure the military-backed government to democracy. The U.S. was providing $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt prior to the recent crisis.

“As we rely on Egypt to partner with us in facing such fundamental regional challenges,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, “we also firmly believe the best, most reliable Egyptian partner is a democratic Egypt.”

Not all lawmakers are pushing for the aid to quickly resume.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the committee's Middle East panel, said the administration should use the aid as leverage to “persuade the Egyptian government to act responsibly.”

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