Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s release of $250 million in economic aid to Egypt added fuel to a fiery debate in Washington over whether the U.S. should be helping to fund a government run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although several lawmakers have called for a halt of U.S. assistance to Egypt, analysts generally agree that Congress lacks the momentum to redirect the $1.3 billion in military aid that Washington sends to Cairo each year.
With lawmakers caught up in “dysfunction and gridlock,” the Obama administration will “probably continue to have broad leeway to continue the current military and economic assistance,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Such leeway appeared to rear its head Sunday when Mr. Kerry announced that the administration would cut a $250 million check for what he described as “a good-faith effort to spur reform and help the Egyptian people at this difficult time.”
The issue of U.S. assistance to Egypt has driven a wedge for months between the White House and Congress, where several lawmakers have cited concerns such as the Brotherhood’s handling of security in the post-Mubarak era, its treatment of women and opposition groups, and the Islamist party’s relationship with Israel.
One of the most vocal opponents of the aid has been Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, who noted during a House hearing last week that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government has “rolled out the red carpet” to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Such moves represent an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to establish ties with “a state sponsor of terrorism that actively seeks the destruction of our closest friend and ally, the democratic Jewish state of Israel,” said Mrs. Ros-Letinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.
“We must recognize the Morsi government is unstable, and not yet proven worthy of unabated economic and military support,” she said before reintroducing to the committee a month-old resolution to require Egypt to protect political freedoms and uphold its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
If the resolution becomes law, it would mark a significant shift in policy for the United States, which analysts say channeled some $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign assistance to Egypt from 1948 to 2011.
Much of the aid went directly to the government of dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in 2011. While his regime upheld the peace treaty with Israel, it had a worldwide reputation for restricting political, media and other freedoms.
Some analysts argue that past U.S. assistance to Egypt should not justify carrying on with the aid today.
“It’s not wise for the White House to throw Morsi a life preserver every few months,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“By giving money to a regime like Morsi’s, we are preventing him from being accountable for his actions,” Mr. Rubin said. “If Egyptians see that behind the religious rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood, there is really zero competence, then maybe we could be done with the Muslim Brotherhood once and for all.”
Mr. Morsi’s apparent charm when meeting with Western leaders, however, appears to have softened some influential U.S. lawmakers to the idea that the Brotherhood is not all bad.
The best example is Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. He initially was among the most vocal advocates for reconsidering all U.S. assistance to Egypt, but he emerged from a Jan. 16 meeting with Mr. Morsi calling for patience on the issue.
“The fact is that the economy of Egypt is in such condition that it requires expeditious aid to be supplied,” Mr. McCain said at the time, according to The Associated Press. “It is hard to have democracy when people are not eating.”