President Barack Obama has formally decided not to decide whether the Egyptian military’s removal of the America-hating Muslim Brotherhood triggers a legal bar against aid to coup plotters.
Obama’s no-decision policy was announced Monday by Josh Earnest, Obama’s principal deputy press secretary.
“We’ve concluded that it is not in the best interest of the United States to reach a determination on a coup,” he said in the daily press conference.
But that decision clashes with the law governing U.S. foreign aid.
Under Section 7008 of the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, the president must stop aid to a country that has undergone a coup, unless the president formally declares it is his policy to continue the aid, according to a legal summary provided by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate committee that funds foreign aid.
Obama’s policy of not deciding allows him to evade the embarrassment of using his own authority to restart aid to Egypt’s military after it is stopped by Section 7008.
The refusal to decide whether the takeover is a coup, however, doesn’t force Obama to keep supplying aid to Egypt. Several news reports say the administration is quietly freezing most aid, including the transfer of some high-profile attack helicopters, pending a future decision.
White House officials, however, denied Tuesday that most aid is being frozen.
In July, the military removed Egypt’s elected Islamist government, which was dominated by the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
The removal came amid massive public protest against the brotherhood, which had established a new Islamic constitution that imposes an apartheid-like legal subordination of women and non-Muslims, especially Christians.
Since the coup, the Brotherhood’s members have burned numerous Churches and killed Christians from the country’s minority Coptic sect. Copts once comprised most of the the country’s population, but after centuries of Islamic oppression, are now down to about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people.
The military and the Brotherhood have engaged in an increasingly violent series of clashes that have killed up to 1,000 Brotherhood people, and more than 50 soldiers. Although open civil combat is a rare event in Egypt, the country’s military has struggled for more than 50 years — often using extreme violence — to prevent the Brotherhood from burying Egypt under a pan-Islamist shroud.
Saudi Arabia has promised large aid to Egypt. However, Obama is remaining vague about his policy priorities.