The Obama administration’s recent decision to suspend selected US military aid to Egypt after the Egyptian army’s brutal crackdown against peaceful anti-coup protesters has raised the ire of many prominent lawmakers. On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked Derek Chollet, the Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, to talk about the recent aid cuts.
During his testimony, Chollet stressed the importance of US-Egypt military relations because of Cairo’s willingness to allow the US army access to over flights and expeditious Suez Canal transits, both of which are essential for waging successful military operations in the region. Chollet added that the US partnership with the Egyptian military “assists in maintaining the Peace Treaty with Israel, securing the Sinai, countering transnational terrorist threats, and securing global commerce by providing safe transit of ships through the Suez Canal.”
However Chollet also told Congress that while these relations are strategically important, the US has “serious concerns about the events of 3 July and the large-scale violence against demonstrators in mid-August. After those events, the President made clear that it would not be business as usual with Egypt. And we have recalibrated our assistance to ensure that it is being used to advance all of our objectives in Egypt.” He cited withholding the “deliveries of large-scale weapons systems to Egypt, including F-16s, M1A1 tank kits, Apache helicopters, and Harpoon missiles,” as well as cancelling “this year’s BRIGHT STAR military training exercise with the Egyptian Armed Forces.”
In response, members of Congress expressed clear frustration with the change in US policy, while only a few lone voices presented a more nuanced view.
Several lawmakers clearly viewed the aid cuts through an Islamophobic lens. Republican Dana Rohrabacher complained that the US is “hanging out to dry” General Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi and the people who the US should be applauding for “defeating radical Islam in Egypt”. His colleague Chris Smith even criticised the State Department for not taking action to stop what he described as “Muslims in Egypt taking young girls as wives and forcing them to convert to Islam.”
Several Democrats on the committee also expressed concern over the aid cuts, questioning whether the White House had first consulted with Israel before making the aid decision.
Democrat Eliot Engel remarked that, “It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” explaining that: “These actions make it tougher for us to influence them, not easier.” He added that, “If I were given the choice between the military and the Brotherhood, I’d take the military every single time.”
However Democrat Ted Deutch warned of doing nothing, pointing out that the Gulf states are now providing vast resources to the interim government, so the US must act in a way to preserve its influence. He insisted that this should include both military assistance and support for democracy.
On the other hand, Democrat Gerald Connolly lectured the administration for supporting the interim government at all. After the hearing he told a reporter from World magazine that: “You can criticize another government and you can criticize how they are governing. But it’s quite a stretch for the US government, which upholds itself as a beacon for liberal democracy in the world, to rationalise away the overthrow of a democratically elected government.”