White House won’t cut aid to Egypt, for now

Demonstrators carry posters of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, outside a mosque in Cairo.
(Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has ruled out, at least for now, cutting off $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt despite a federal law that requires halting such assistance to countries that have overthrown elected governments with military coups.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters Monday that a quick aid cutoff to Cairo would be “not in the best interests of the United States.” He said the administration would “take the time necessary” to study the law and watch developments in Egypt.

Officials suggested that using the threat of an aid cutoff to push the Egyptian military and other political players toward reconciliation would be more effective than imposing a punishment that could alienate the generals.

“This is a complex situation, and it is not in our interests to move … unnecessarily quickly in making a determination like that,” Carney said. “We need to be mindful of our objective here, which is to assist the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy, and to remain faithful to our national security interests.”


The administration wants to ensure that Egypt maintains close cooperation on counter-terrorism and that it continues to respect the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone for peace in the region.

Last week, after Egypt’s military toppled President Mohamed Morsi, President Obama said he had directed the State Department and other agencies to “review the implications” for U.S. aid to Cairo.

Under U.S. law, American military, economic and other aid is cut off if a democratic government is overthrown by military coup or decree.

Though the language of the law seems categorical, lawyers say the government has some latitude in carrying out the restrictions. Past administrations have found wiggle room in such situations, and in this case, White House officials have carefully avoided calling the ouster a “coup.”


Washington provides $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt and $250 million in civilian aid.The Egyptian military clearly values the aid, but many experts say it is not so important that a potential cutoff would persuade the military to move against its core interests.

Though some senior lawmakers, such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have called for halting the aid, many others in Congress have signaled that they don’t want the administration to take a step that could alienate the Egyptian military, which is the United States’ strongest point of leverage in a chaotic political system.


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