The $1.5 billion in U.S. foreign aid slated for Egypt next year is in jeopardy after the Egyptian army deposed democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday.
Section 508 of the decades-old Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “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 a military coup or decree.”
A clause in the 2011 omnibus bill strengthens the provision, excluding from American aid any nation experiencing a “coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
Although events in Egypt appear to conform perfectly to these criteria, it’s unclear whether the Obama administration will cut off revenue to the strategically important nation anytime soon.
“Given today’s developments, I have directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt,” President Barack Obama said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
But the president also refused to call the takeover a coup, indicating his administration’s wariness to label events in Egypt before deciding how to proceed.
Time reports that the $1.3 billion marked for the Egyptian military in 2014 is around 20 percent of that organization’s total budget. Without that money, the army may be unable to keep the peace should an extended confrontation develop between Morsi’s supporters and opposition activists.
“The Egyptian military has long been a key partner of the United States and a stabilizing force in the region, and is perhaps the only trusted national institution in Egypt today,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement Wednesday.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee echoed that sentiment.
“In determining the future of U.S. assistance, the administration should look at the regional picture with our national security interests in mind,” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said in a Wednesday announcement. “Our long-standing cooperation with Egypt, which is essential for stability in the region, should remain a priority.”
Their comments indicate that the administration would face little protest from congressional Republicans if they decide to ignore or circumvent the law on foreign assistance.
But politicians from the president’s own party may be less forgiving.
“Our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” said Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the budget committee which oversees foreign aid.
John Bellinger, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out in his blog on Thursday that unlike many parts of the Foreign Assistance Act, the provision restricting foreign aid “does not include Presidential waiver authority.”