CAPITOL HILL —
Some U.S. lawmakers say there should be no immediate cut-off of American aid to Egypt following the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The future of that assistance was the focus of a Senate hearing one day after the Obama administration announced a delay in the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.
For decades, Egypt has been a top recipient of U.S. foreign aid, including substantial military assistance. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Robert Menendez, says aid should continue to flow, at least for now.
“Abandoning Egypt would be a particularly poor policy choice,” he said.
Similarly, the committee’s top Republican, Senator Bob Corker, argued in favor of soothing tensions between Washington and Cairo.
“I do think that our nation’s role in Egypt right now should be an instrument of calmness. I think sometimes we forget that we have critical national security interests in Egypt," he said. "It is the most populous country in the Middle East, a strategic ally, the recipient of more than $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer money [annually], provides U.S. military vessels preferred access to the Suez Canal, and our two countries cooperate on counterterrorism."
Wednesday, the Pentagon announced a delay in the delivery of four F-16 jets to Egypt. A spokesman said the U.S.-Egyptian military relationship endures, but that the administration desires a return to democratic governance in Egypt as soon as possible.
The Obama administration has not labeled Morsi’s ouster an actual military coup which, under U.S. law, would trigger a cut-off of assistance to Egypt. Such an outcome would be viewed negatively by many Egyptians, according to former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, who testified at the Senate hearing.
“I am afraid that if we were to cut off our assistance at this point, the effect would be to lose the link we have with the military. But we would also find a backlash among the Egyptian public," he said. "The Egyptian public would look at this as an American effort to dictate to them against the popular will.”
Another witness said inaction, however, causes the United States to be seen as indifferent or even condoning the removal of a duly-elected leader.
“The United States is understandably wary of damaging its longstanding relationship with the Egyptian government. But it should also avoid pursuing a policy that appears to be cynical and unprincipled,” said former State Department Middle East affairs specialist Michele Dunne.
Menendez emphasized that U.S. goals must remain clear.
“At the end of the day, Egyptian leaders and the Egyptian military must show that they are committed to an inclusive political process, credible democratic elections, and democratic governance that protects the rights of religious minorities and women,” he said.
Menendez warned that U.S. support “is not unconditional and unending.”