Bill to allow US military aid to post-coup Egypt passes committee

Posted Dec 19, 2013 by Ken Hanly
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill that will make it easier for the US government to provide aid to countries with a government established through the forceful overthrow of a democratically elected government.
Egyptian military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Egyptian military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
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While the bill is called the Egypt Assistance Reform Act, and was no doubt designed to deal explicitly with the situation in Egypt, the powers given to the administration could also be used in similar situations in the future.
The act passed through the committee with a 16 to 1 vote in favor. The one dissenting vote came not from a Democrat but Republican Senator Rand Paul who complained that the committee “voted to weaken existing law and give the president more authority to send billions in aid to countries who violently overthrow their governments and engage in violence against their own citizens".
The key bi-partisan backing for the bill came from Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Bob Corker, a Republican who said that the bill would allow the US to maintain strategically important ties with countries such as Egypt while imposing strict restrictions on any financial or military aid to such government. Menendez said: “This legislation reaffirms the enduring U.S. commitment to our partnership with the Egyptian government by authorizing continued assistance and endorsing the importance of ongoing cooperation,”
The Obama administration has consistently refused to call the military overthrow by General Sisi of the democratically elected Morsi government a coup. It did however cut off some military aid to Egypt under pressure from critics. If the administration had determined the overthrow was a military coup then Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations law prohibits aid to post-coup countries. It is not clear that the aid cut will have any effect on the equipment needed to repress dissent: One of the biggest problems with U.S. military aid to Egypt is the small arms and riot gear that security forces use to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters or crack down more generally on the population’s democratic ambitions. This type of aid may not be included in the suspension, but it’s hard to know because unless the arms transfer is a multi-million dollar war plane, they often are not even publicly disclosed.
While the bill passed the committee, it is not clear that Menendez can bring the bill to the Senate floor before the end of this week when the Senate breaks for the holidays. The real test for the resolution will come early in January. Given the reaction within the committee it seems unlikely that the bill will go down to defeat.