U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy announced on Tuesday that he will block the Obama administration from sending nearly $650 million in military aid to Egypt. His action is a direct response to an Egyptian court sentencing over 600 people to death on Monday. As the chairman of the foreign aid subcommittee, Leahy has consistently prioritized human rights, passing a law that denies aid to any regime that came to power through a coup.
President Obama has been reluctant to label the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 a coup, but he did choose to suspend aid to Egypt in October. The U.S. annually sends about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. Last week, however, the President decided to partially lift the suspension on aid and now supports delivering 10 Apache helicopters as well as $650 million in additional funding that Senator Leahy is trying to block. The Pentagon says that Cairo needs the helicopters to fight insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula and that their delivery is not subject to congressional approval.
Egyptian soldiers move into El Arish, a city in northern Sinai. (Photo: Reuters)
Sinai has been the scene of terrorist attacks from Jihadist groups after the withdrawal of Hosni Mubarak’s security forces in 2011. Islamist radicals often target the Egyptian military, police, and other Western-associated targets as well as infrastructure, such as gas pipelines. Egypt’s military, under the leadership of field general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has calmed some of the violence after stationing thousands of troops in the region. But resentment among local residents towards the security force can run deep, with nighttime curfews, roadblocks, and repression of free speech disrupting everyday life.
Unlike the United States, Israel is quite supportive of Cairo’s military efforts in Sinai. Israel has decided that, in the words of Major General (res.) Amos Gilad, stability is more important than democracy in Egypt. By delivering the helicopters, the Obama administration recognizes the importance of security in Sinai and Suez Canal. Meanwhile, critics of the President’s decision to lift the aid suspension believe that the U.S. shows complicity with Sisi’s repression.