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.
“There are two criteria that the President [is]… using to evaluate the ongoing provision of assistance to the Egyptian government,” Earnest said.
“The first is evaluating what’s in the best interest of the national security of the United States of America… the second one is considering our obligations under the law, and in this case, that is Section 7008 of the Annual Department of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act,” he announced.
However, the decision required by Section 7008 — about whether the takeover is a coup — will not be taken, he said.
“That is a decision that will be set aside,” he said.
The decision to evade the law matches earlier decisions by Obama.
Since 2012, Obama has declined to enforce immigration law and has made recess appointments even when the Senate was in session. He has also unilaterally delayed enforcement of damaging sections of Obamacare until after the 2014 midterm elections and has not stopped the IRS’s targeting of conservative non-profits.
But Earnest claimed the president is obeying the Section 7008 law.
“We will evaluate our assistance to the Egyptians based on… the law, as described in Section 7008,” he insisted.
“This administration, of course, will make these decisions to ensure that whatever assistance is being provided is being provided in the context and within the confines of Section 7008,” he claimed.
Earnest extended that vague description with additional generalities.
“We’re going to review our assistance to the Egypt — to the Egyptian government in light of their conduct,” he said.
“There are ongoing conversations between senior administration officials here in this country and senior administration officials in Egypt, that there is a dialogue that’s open,” Earnest added. “And in the context of those conversations, this administration and senior leaders in this administration have made clear that it is incumbent upon the interim government in Egypt to follow through on their promise to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government in Egypt. It is also important for that interim government in Egypt to respect basic human rights.”