Not So Fast—US Senator Freezes Military Aid to Egypt

Will US Congress pass let aid reach Egypt? US Capitol building. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Will US Congress let aid reach Egypt? US Capitol building. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

For roughly one week, Egypt was set to receive renewed US military financial aid for counterterrorism. But one US senator has put his foot down and held up the $650 million worth of aid over Egypt’s human rights concerns, and he didn’t sound like he was ready to change his mind any time soon.

“I am not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military until we have a better understanding of how the aid would be used, and we see convincing evidence that the government is committed to the rule of law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, who used his role as chairman on the committee that oversees foreign aid to freeze the transfer to Egypt.

The situation highlights the Americans’ precarious diplomatic position with Egypt, where security concerns and counterterrorism issues are running contrary to US views on democracy in Egypt.

Leahy’s stance comes after the US Defense Department announced plans to transfer 10 attach helicopters to Egypt for counterterrorism purposes. Egypt is facing a mini-war with terrorists in the Sinai region, which borders Israel. However, Egypt has also come under heavy fire politically for recent human rights concerns related to the military coup that took over the country last year.

In the comments released by his office on his website, Leahy said, “I am extremely disturbed by the Egyptian Government’s flouting of human rights and appalling abuse of the justice system, which are fundamental to any democracy.”

The Obama Administration had requested that the military aid to Egypt move forward after Congressional budget moves included the monies, before Leahy stepped in. In comments to reporters released by the US State Department, spokesperson Jen Psaki said they would still seek to send the funds to Egypt.

“The reason we were able to grant these certifications because it was allowed for in the appropriations bill. But Congress certainly has a powerful role to play in determining whether this funding moves forward,” said Psaki, who noted that Leahy and others would be briefed further on the situation.

It’s a tough position for the US to navigate, but it’s one they need to resolve soon. With terrorists running amok in Egypt even as Egyptians face threats from their own government, lives are at stake on both sides of the argument.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, May 1, 2014)

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