There's No Dancing Around the Law on Aid to Egypt
Suspending U.S. aid to Egypt is good for democracy
July 10, 2013
Since Egyptian Military Chief Abdul Fattah al Sisi announced that President Mohammed Morsi would be replaced by Interim President Adly Mansour and a provisional authority mandated to shepherd the country to a new constitution and early parliamentary and presidential elections, U.S. President Barack Obama and his State Department have been dancing on the pinhead of Section 508 of the US Foreign Assistance Act. At issue is whether or not U.S. law requires that Washington suspend this year's $1.3 billion in foreign assistance allotted for Egypt's military.
The answer to the question is yes. No amount of hermeneutic gymnastics can explain away what Congress legislated in the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the reinforcement clause in the 2011 Omnibus Bill: "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree," and for clarity, funds cannot be made available to any country operating under a government achieved through "a coup d'état or degree in which the military plays a decisive role."
Notwithstanding the fact that the Tamarod ("Rebellion") Movement organized a sustained wave of popular protests demanding Morsi's ouster (the millions-strong demonstrations included a remarkable cross-section of youth, liberals, secularists, religious minorities and non-Muslim Brotherhood Sunnis), the Egyptian military carried out a coup d'etat when it forcibly removed the country's democratically-elected President. Furthermore, although direct military rule has not been enforced, the decisive role of the Egyptian Armed Forces in governance was reaffirmed when President Mansour referenced Gen. al Sisi to explain the authority of the roadmap for constitutional reform and new elections. Simply, Egyptian politics over the last 10 days fits the criteria under which U.S. foreign assistance must be suspended.
While political pundits worry that the disappearance of the aid carrot to the Egyptian military will weaken Egypt's commitment to peace with Israel, and military-industrial money-makers wring their hands over potential profits lost, the Obama administration should get busy turning lemons into lemonade. Now is the moment to show the world that the United States is a rule-of-law country, where military coups (even when the result of a spectacular popular uprising) cannot be countenanced over electoral democracy. Sending that message would be smart power at its best, particularly at a moment when the Snowden affair has badly tarnished Washington's rule-of-law bona fides.
Now's also the moment when Washington can finally use foreign assistance as leverage to help to correct what has long been a straight-jacket on substantive democracy in Egypt – namely, the overweening role of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the country's politics. Every Egyptian citizen knows that the military has been the behind-the-scenes arbiter of power over civilian regimes from Sadat to Mubarak to Morsi to the present Mansour interim authority. Egyptian citizens know full well that Washington has provided the financial support that's helped to keep the generals in charge. The suspension of non-humanitarian, military assistance to Egypt would show that Washington supports rule-of-law, civilized politics in that country, an important corollary being that Washington would not tolerate any move by Cairo to weaken its fragile peace with Tel Aviv and that the U.S. is unwilling to reward military abusers of human rights, religious freedom and civil liberties.
In the final analysis, the U.S. suspension of military aid to Egypt is good for U.S. democracy and for Egyptian democracy. Not incidentally, Section 508 does not require Washington to shut the spigot on non-military, non-governmental, humanitarian assistance to Egypt – dollars better spent on supporting civil society institutions and political programs that promote respect for human rights and transparent, democratic politics.
No situation is permanent – after all, the Foreign Assistance Act would allow for a resumption of U.S. military aid to Egypt at the point where "the President determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office." What greater incentive could there be for Egypt's military to return, permanently, to its barracks?